Head over to the supermarket or greengrocer, and you’ll see what looks like a typo when it comes to the price of limes. In the last year, the price of the little green things has doubled. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average price is now 53 cents. And it looks like they won’t be cheaper anytime soon because the next harvest doesn’t start till May. This could potentially mean disaster at Cinco de Mayo — strawberry margaritas, citrus-less salsa and guacamole, and people trying to use lemons as a substitute. The horror.
Based on my extensive and exhaustive research into the global lime market (insomnia means the hours must be filled somehow), I have concluded that three separate factors are forcing us to consider Tecate without lime in it: bad weather, yellow dragon disease, and the Knights Templar drug gang.
Mexico is the largest exporter of limes (both the Key/Tahiti and Persian/Mexican varieties) in the world and provides the U.S. with 95% of its limes. December and January in Mexico’s lime-growing regions were rainy, windy and cold. That spoiled part of the year-end harvest and killed off a lot of the blossoms, and that means no fruit for the May-June crop. Last year’s hurricane did the lime groves no good either. Still, farmers always bitch about bad weather — it’s part of the job.
A second factor is huanglongbing (which is not the name of the Dodgers’ new relief pitcher). HLB is also known as yellow dragon disease or citrus greening disease. Russ Parsons at The New York Times wrote that it “is a bacterial disease that is spread by a tiny flying insect, the Asian citrus psyllid. Trees stricken with the disease produce fruit that remains hard, bitter and misshapen, and they die within a few years. It is considered to be one of the most serious agricultural diseases in the world.” Because lime trees don’t start producing fruit until at least their third year, recovery will take a while.
The third reason you have to shell out four bits for a lime is a Mexican drug cartel that calls itself Los Caballeros Templarios, or the Knights Templar. Their home turf is the state of Michoacan and that happens to be the heart of the Mexican lime industry. As you might imagine, they aren’t particularly nice people to have as neighbors, and they do have a passion for other people’s money, not just that of drug addicts.
In a report last fall in El Universal newspaper, one grower reported having to pay 50,000 to 60,000 pesos ($3,800 to $4,600) a month, extorted regularly. He had customers imposed on him by the Knights, his work schedules drawn up by the cartel, and he had to bring people to demonstrations demanding a withdrawal of federal forces from the state. The anonymous grower said, “And if we did not obey his orders, they burned our packaging plants.” Other reports say that the Knights simply kill the more difficult farmers and take over production — going legit, I suppose.
The good news on this front is that the Mexican authorities killed the boss of the Knights, Nazario Moreno, alias “El Chayo,” on March 9, and on April 1 they killed another leader, Enrique “Kike” Plancarte [pronounced Kee-Kay rather than the anti-semitic slur]. The hope is that the figurative decapitation of the Knights will end the literal decapitation of the people in Michoacan (the Knights first got the attention of everyone by rolling five heads into a disco).
Still, I’d plan on strawberry margaritas next month.