By Patrick Gallagher
The future does not look bright for the lime. As prices continue to increase due to a prevalent shortage in Mexico, the limes are now going for more than a dollar each in American grocery stores. Look to the ShopRite here in Ewing and you will find limes for outrageous prices. At some stores, limes are sold three for four dollars, when there were times when a dollar could buy four. For the first time, consumers are feeling a squeeze in their wallets before they can get to squeezing their limes. Many restaurants are simply not playing this game: to combat rising lime prices, they are either not vending lime products altogether, or replacing them with lemons.
But more important than the consumer’s wallet, Mexican lime farmers are feeling an even harsher squeeze. The Knights Templar, a drug cartel that operates mainly in the state of Michoacan, has started harassing farmers, forcing them to pay taxes to the cartel or face death. The cartel has slowed the already weakened rate of lime export out of Mexico. The agrarian state of Michoacan has become an agricultural warzone, with armed men intruding lime farms and taking what they please alongside the cartel activity. In order to keep their communities safe, civilians have formed vigilante groups to fight off the Knights Templar, and in many cases, they have been successful.
On top of that, a bacterial disease known as HLB, or “citrus-greening” has been sweeping across Mexico for the past few years. Transmitted by an insect, the disease is one of the most destructive ailments to befall a citrus tree. HLB causes the fruit of the tree to become frail, misshapen and bitter. With improper fruit, the citrus tree affected typically does not live many years after the disease is transmitted. In fact, this disease has caused much issue in Florida, hampering the orange industry since HLB was discovered in the state in 2005. For now, HLB has been contained to only certain regions of Mexico, but because it is transmitted through an insect, there is no telling where it could end up next. Today, it haunts the state of Colima, but within years, all of agricultural Mexico could be affected.
The average American has nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs until prices go down, but there is a chance for a rebound. Scientists, especially those located at citrus-producing areas of the United States, such as Florida and Southern California, are working to combat HLB and find a way to preserve the citrus industry. The USDA is making great efforts to not only contain HLB, but fund research into creating citrus immune to this disease.
There seems to be little hope for our little green citrus in the short-term. As the Mexican people and government attempt to deal with the Knights Templar Cartel, people have died and will continue to fight and die over this crisis. Two weeks ago, I started this column so the TCNJ community could be better informed about my favorite fruit. As tensions grow higher in Mexico, there could not be a more apt time to be the College’s Lime Correspondent. Limes are no laughing matter. I hope to bring more uplifting news next week, and remember — the moment you take this wondrous citrus for granted might be the last time you see it at your dinner table.