ABOVE THE LIME

Mexico 2015 | AGRICULTURE | FOCUS: CITRUS FRUITS

Mexico is the second-largest producer of lemons and limes in the world. The surge in exports to the US and Canada thanks to the NAFTA agreement, alongside a growing domestic market, have turned Mexico into one of the most important countries for citrus production.

Lemons and limes are essential ingredients in the national cuisine. Along with chillies and jalapeños, they are present in almost every single Mexican dish.

Mexicans mainly produce two varieties of limes: the Persian lime and the Key lime—also known as Mexican lime. The main difference between the two is that the first is less acidic than the second, and the Persian has no seeds. According to the Secretary of Agriculture (Sagarpa), Key limes constitute about 56% of the total production, whereas Persian limes represents 40% and traditional lemons account for the remaining 4%. In the last years, the Persian lime has been the most dynamic, with an annual increase of 8.7% in production from 2007 to 2012, driven by exports.

The average annual production of limes in Mexico was around 2 billion tons a year between 2011 and 2013, around 75% of which was consumed locally. An average Mexican consumes 14kg of lemons and limes a year, the highest in the world, followed by the Italians with 12kg per person according to Fira, a government trust for agriculture.

Sagarpa estimates that Mexico exports 25% of its total output, mostly in the form of Persian limes, at 85%. The primary destinations for these exports are the US and Canadian markets. The sales of lemons and limes to North America skyrocketed after the signing of the NAFTA agreement about 20 years ago and over 90% of limes imported by the US come from Mexico. After the US, about 45 % of Mexican Persian lime exports goes to around 20 countries in the world.

Price of this variety of citrus in 2014 ranged from $620 to $930 per ton, and American companies paid about $730 per ton. Consequently, foreign sales of Persian limes generated $327 million income for Mexico, according to the Secretary of Economy, which makes it one of the most profitable fruits for the country´s agriculture sector.

Regarding production, the harvest of lemons and limes is widespread, although the areas of production are well defined. Over 80% of Key lime cultivation takes place in the states of Colima, Michoacán, and Oaxaca. On the other hand, Veracruz concentrates about 61% of the production of Persian lime and lemons, which are mostly concentrated in the Yucatán Peninsula.

According to Sagarpa, in 2013 Persian limes cultivated on 82,900 hectares produced 1 billion tons, two figures that have increased by 149% and 165% respectively since 2000. Even though the production of Persian lime is mainly concentrated in Veracruz, this citrus is also harvested in other 21 states in the republic, which allows the country to keep a stable production rate despite the possible climate hindrances.

Persian limes will be the key player in the Mexican citrus industry in the coming years. This variety of lime was first commercially grown in Mexico three decades ago and its big size, lack of seeds, and less bitter flavor have made it a hot commodity in the foreign markets, as well as in domestic ones. If the production of this citrus continues to rise, it will soon out pace Key limes. Thus the potential for harvesting lemons and limes in Mexico will only grow in the coming years, leaving a delightful taste in the mouth of the country´s producers despite the citrus's bitter flavor.