Lime prices are benefiting Mexican growers in Michoacan. Fans of Cinco de Mayo or anyone interested in a tart margarita will pay increased tabs at the bar. A 40 pound box of limes costs $100, four times the normal price.
Most limes consumed by Americans come from Mexico. Farmers there grow two types. One is called Limon Mexicana. It is a smaller lime containing more seeds. Persian limes are the variety sent to the US. Last year, Mexico exported a half million tons of limes north of the border.
Mexican lime growers blame the high prices on bad weather. Heavy rains from last winter have caused a fungus outbreak. The outbreak has destroyed trees. A reduced lime supply means higher prices. The higher prices are passed on to the consumers and the beneficiaries are Mexican lime growers in Michoacan.
Sergio Ramirez Castañeda is the president of National System for Lime Production. He says farmers in the region grow 110,000 acres of Limon Mexicana compared to 10,000 acres of Persian limes. Castañeda added the main reason for the increased prices was due to heavy rains that damaged trees.
There has been speculation that Mexican drug cartels are the cause for the increases. It is rumored that they have horded part of the lime crop or extorted money from farmers and shippers who are then forced to charge higher prices. Castañeda has called such stories purely speculation. His organization along with no one he claims to know has received reports of criminal gangs threatening farmers or stopping trucks.
Violence and extortion was once rampant in Michoacan by a drug cartel known as the Knights Templar. Estanislao Beltran, a local farmer, said the drug cartel preferred extortion as their business model. The plan worked well. They wanted 50 cents for every kilo of limes harvested. A kilo of limes sold for $1.
The Knights Templar not only attempted to control the lime growers, they wanted payments for farmers who grew sorghum, corn, and anything generating money. The cartel controlled everything and took what they wanted. Farmers had no choice but to agree. The police were either corrupt or powerless to help. The army seemed too distant to provide assistance.
The policy of paying extortion or else ended last year when the people of Michoacan formed into a citizen’s militia. They revolted against the Knights Templar. With the help of the army and police, people like Beltran retook the state. Now, the free market controls prices. More investment has entered Michoacan.
Alberto Gutierrez, a militia commander known as Commander 5, began to grow limes. He agreed the current rise in lime prices occurred because of weather. He said the each time it rained, fungus appeared on trees and had to be treated. Heavy rains meant more fungus. Abuses by the Knights Templar no longer had anything to do with the price of limes.
Higher lime prices are good for the Michoacan farmers. Limes dominates Mexican cuisine just as olive oil dominates Italian dishes. Lime and lime juice have become luxury products. Higher lime prices can be blamed on the weather instead of a drug cartel. For Mexican lime growers in Michoacan the higher demand benefits them instead of a drug cartel.
By Brian T. Yates