Over Easter weekend, I walked into one of those produce-has-entered-the-mainstream conversations.
I arrived at the point where my sister-in-law was explaining to my mother- and father-in-law that “the cartels are extorting money from the lime growers, which makes the prices of limes go up.”
Whoa, sister (in-law)! Produce Man to the rescue! I threw on my multicolored, PBH-approved cloak made of breathable, shelf-life extending film and swooped in to save the day.
In my sister-in-law’s defense, she’s lived in Mexico for 14 years. Had the sister-in-law from Colorado or the one from Omaha started opining on this or that corner of the produce industry, my feathers might have been more ruffled.
But despite her Mexican cred, I took full advantage of my chance to pontificate.
It’s not the cartels causing the high lime prices, folks, I said. It’s Mother Nature, the original pitiless gangster who doesn’t give a fig for what ordinary, decent citizens think.
Mother Nature, and maybe a touch of citrus greening.
The Cartels Taking Over the Produce Industry and Just About Everything Else Too is one of those mainstream media narratives that has seized the public imagination and doesn’t want to let go.
You can certainly see why. The terror and reach of the cartels is hard to overestimate.
But now that the Mexican lime crisis is over, with once-triple-digit markets continuing to fall quickly, a look back confirms what all the people who really knew what was going on have been saying from the beginning.
“Even with hindsight, (growers and importers) are sticking with the original statement: the supplies were a result of bad weather,” Bret Erickson, president and chief executive officer of the Mission-based Texas International Produce Association, told me.
“I still haven’t heard any personal stories from our guys. It doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”
Widely reported stories of thefts of loads of pricey limes also, in retrospect, turned out to have little effect on prices or volumes, Erickson said.
In fact, whether or not it’s related to citizen militias pushing back against the Knights Templar, one of the fiercest cartels, Erickson has heard reports of growers making such good money they’re buying up more land for fruits and vegetables.
The battle in Mexico to prevent the effects of greening has begun in earnest, Erickson said. The prospects are frightening, and limes are among the most vulnerable commodities.
But greening likely accounted for little of the historic market spike earlier this spring.
“It takes a number of years before it really impacts the supply.”
The cartels and greening are real. But in the case of the Great Lime Spike of 2014, they were no match for the weather.
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