Mexican growers warn of surplus of Key limes

The 2017/2018 Mexican lime season will be an improvement on the previous season. The lime season runs from November to October. Growers have indicated that there is an overproduction of Persian, as well as Key Limes. This is according to a recent USDA report.

Thanks to the good international market and fewer plant-health problems, acreage for both varieties has increased rapidly. Citrus greening is, however, a challenge for farmers. In the state of Colima, the acreage is increasing because orchards that have been contaminated with Citrus greening are gradually being replanted with new trees. A further expansion in acreage is also expected for this season. The weather and production costs will ultimately determine how quickly acreage will increase. 

In terms of acreage, Persian limes' share has increased from 42% in 2009/2010 to 50% in 2015/2016. Key limes saw their acreage share drop from 54% in 2009/2010 to 45% in 2015/2016. This is partly due to the problems with Citrus greening in the Pacific coast regions. Here, the orchards in Colima were under pressure.

In Veracruz, the area used for Persian limes is expanding faster than the acreage used for Key limes in other regions. Depending on the circumstances, there are considerable differences in the yields of both varieties. The average yield for Persian limes in Veracruz is between 8 and 18 tonnes per hectare, with an outlier of 25 tonnes per hectare. For Key limes, yields are from 7 to 13 tonnes per hectare, with one outlier of 30 tonnes per hectare.

Veracruz is the most significant cultivation area for Persian limes. More than 20% of growers in this area have irrigation systems, necessitating year-round cultivation. The cultivation is dominated by large companies. Production costs are influenced by, among other factors, the costs of imported pesticides and fertilisers. Production has become relatively more expensive due to the devaluation of the Mexican Peso against the US Dollar.

Michoacan and Colima are the most important cultivation areas for Key limes. Although acreage is expanding, this is happening at a slow pace. This is due to the fluctuation in domestic prices for these limes. Michoacan is in the local market during the winter (December to February). Citrus greening is well-controlled in Michoacan and did not have a significant impact on production. This has led to a rapid increase in acreage in the region. According to farmers, the domestic market is saturated with Key limes. A considerable growth in production in Michoacan would place pressure on international prices. It is common practice for growers to delay harvests in order to avoid flooding the market. Limes can be harvested year-round on the majority of irrigated farms. This applies to most of the orchards in Michoacan en Colima. In contrast, the majority of farms in Guerrero and Oaxaca are not irrigated.

Although no official figures have been released, it is estimated that total production will amount to 2,5 million tonnes. It is, however, unclear what consequences the rain and Hurricane Franklin will have for cultivation in Veracruz. Other regions like Michoacan and Colima, expect a larger harvest. This means Colima will recover from a loss of 20-30% in 2013/2014 due to Citrus greening.

In the estimations, exports are referred to as "strong" with a volume of 770,000 tonnes. Exports are, however, highly dependent on the demand from Europe and the US, as well as fluctuations in the exchange rate. Depending on prices, harvesting of Persian limes starts in early April. Generally, this citrus fruit is first sent to Europe, with the American market following later. Exporters are always on the lookout to expand in Europe and Japan, but 40% of the harvest is still destined for the US and Canada. 

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