Rising Lime Prices in the US: Why We Should Care
By Greg Peterson
What is the price of rice in China? Or better yet, what is the price of limes in the U.S.?
One of the fun things that I ask Siri is”‘What IS the price of rice in China?” She responds with, ”Hmm… I don’t see any prices.” Wikipedia defines this phrase as “an idiom denoting the irrelevance of the current discussion. 3” The same could be inferred about the irrelevance of the price of limes is in the U.S…. or could it?
A recent article in the Arizona Republic delves into the lime shortages, speaking to drug cartel violence, blight and bad weather in Mexico having driven the price of limes in Phoenix from $14 to $120 per case.1 Hmm, I say, not seeing any relevance to the higher price of limes affecting my life (unless, of course, I was a drinker of margaritas or eater of guacamole).
Then, I found an article in the New York Daily News which states that “the U.S. receives more than 95% of its limes from Mexico…2” The plot thickens. However, REALLY since I don’t drink margaritas and my guacamole is just fine without limes, what IS the big deal?
Well, 95% of anything is a significant amount of any one thing to import. What if I told you that, according to the FDA, “Nearly two-thirds of our fruits and vegetables–and 80% of seafood–eaten domestically come from outside the U.S. 4”? OK, so now we are not just talking about limes—we are talking about 66% of ALL of our fresh fruits and vegetables coming from somewhere other than our own fertile U.S. soil.
Consider this: the article “Mexico Dominates U.S. Produce Imports, 5” posted on ThePacker.com, cites U.S. Department of Agriculture showing Mexico as the largest supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables to the U.S., which in 2012 accounted for 69%, or $4.05 billion of the U.S. fresh vegetable imports and 37% or $2.86 billion of the U.S. fresh fruit imports.
According to the Congressional Research Report “The U.S. Trade Situation for Fruit and Vegetable Products,6” dated January 15, 2014, the major U.S. imports from Mexico include: tomatoes, avocados, peppers, grapes, cucumbers, melons, berries, onions, asparagus, citrus and assorted vegetables.
All this could make you pause and question…if a little bit of disharmony in Mexico can cause the price of limes to rise almost 800% in just a few short months, what might a little more disharmony cause?
- Tomatoes & citrus that are currently $2 per pound would be $16 per pound
- Cucumbers that are currently $1 per pound would be $8 per pound
- Melons currently at .39 per pound would be $3.12 per pound.
- Grapes currently at $1.79 per pound would be $14.32 per pound.
- Other fresh vegetables that currently sell from $0.29 to $3.99 per pound would be $2.32 to almost $32 per pound.
These are significant numbers and if even 25% of our food coming in from Mexico were to increase to these prices it would put a considerable strain on most of our pocketbooks.
So am I saying that it is bad that we are importing all this food? Absolutely not, in fact at this point this is how we are feeding our culture. But there is a better way and it is time to reconsider these statistics and start making some changes. The simplest step is to start growing our own food and, interestingly, most of what we import from Mexico can be grown in our own back and front yards.
The benefits of growing your own food include:
- You know what is in it and if you want to grow completely organically you can.
- It is fresher and more nutrient dense.
- Reduction in food miles. Food miles are the distance food travels from farm to plate and in the U.S. the average food miles is 1500. That is just the average. If you are consuming something from Chile it travels almost 5000 miles.
- You get to connect with nature.
- Have the pride and satisfaction of growing your own.
“Hey, but I don’t want to grow my own food!” you say. That is OK, just start shopping locally. In the article “Why Eating Local Matters, 7” food systems analyst Ken Meter calculates that if everyone in Southern Arizona spent just $5 more a week buying directly from local farmers, average farmers’ sales would nearly double, jumping from an annual revenue of $300 million to $587 million. That is a huge impact for only $5 a week each. So what can you do?
- Find a local farmers market and befriend a farmer. Give him or her your money directly.
- Order a CSA share from a local farmer. What is a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture and comes in many forms. Essentially, you prepay a farmer for a set period of weeks or months, then each week you receive a basket of what they are growing in season.
- Shop at a grocer that offers locally grown produce.
- Find a restaurant that sources locally or better yet grows their own.
All of this is why the price of limes in the U.S. is relevant. Although the mass of it may be complicated, your job is simple. Grow your own or spend at least an additional $5 a week on supporting your local farmer.