Bloomberg — Avocado growers in the Mexican state of Michoacán are feeling the pain of the U.S.’s decision to suspend imports of the green fruit due to security concerns.
About 20,000 tons of avocado that would have normally been exported this week from Michoacán are still hanging on trees, one producer estimates, meaning growers haven’t seen a single cent since the suspension went into effect Feb. 11. At 50 pesos per kilo directly at the farm, producers across the state have already missed out on roughly 1 billion pesos ($50 million).
The money isn’t lost just yet. Growers like Humberto Solórzano in Michoacán are anxiously monitoring the news hoping the ban will be lifted any day now and avocados will start flowing into the U.S. again, allowing them to catch up on the exports.
The suspension went into effect after a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector said he received a threatening call to his cellphone. Mexico’s avocado export group APEAM met with several U.S. and local authorities to review security measures and protocols. But on Thursday, the USDA said it’s maintaining the ban until there are “assurances that our employees’ lives are not at risk.”
“We’re already seeing packers and harvesters asking for money in the street because they earn daily wages, and they haven’t been paid this week,” said Solórzano. “The industry is one of the greatest providers of jobs in the state, there’s no other that can absorb all these workers.”
Michoacán is, at least for now, the only Mexican jurisdiction approved to export avocados to the U.S., and is responsible for supplying 80% of American avocado demand. For the past several years, the coastal state that sits just west of Mexico City has been caught in a brutal war between cartels that have infiltrated the lucrative avocado trade.
Growers will try to keep avocados in trees for as long as they can, Solórzano said. Depending on each farm’s altitude, that can be until the end of the season in July. But others won’t be so lucky, and they’ll have to start harvesting in the coming weeks. Already some avocados are falling from trees, too mature to be exported. By April or May, many of the farms standing on lower ground could lose about half of their production to falling avocados, he said.
Other producers such as Peru or Colombia can help fill some of the void left in the U.S. market by the suspension, Solórzano said. But their production is nowhere near enough to cover the country’s demand.
“We’re not to blame for the state’s insecurity,” he said in an interview from Michoacán. “We also need protections, we’re also the victims here.”