Mexico’s 2nd state begins avocado exports to the US market

MEXICO — American consumers will finally have the chance to try avocados from Jalisco after 25 years in which neighboring Michoacan was the only Mexican state allowed to send the green fruit to the American market.

That could help lower prices, which have soared to more than $2 per fruit this year amid a drop in production in Michoacan.

Growers and packers in Jalisco, just northwest of Michoacan, have expressed hope that their state can provide more consistent production levels and price stability for avocados, which have fluctuated wildly due to shortages of avocados. seasonal supplies.

Eleven trucks carrying 200 tons of avocados from Jalisco lined up in the mountain town of Zapotlan El Grande on Thursday to leave for the United States.

“When we were talking about very high prices a month ago, it was because the market was not sufficiently supplied,” said Javier Medina Villanueva, president of the Jalisco Avocado Export Association. “So we believe that the entry of Jalisco will solve this shortage of supply. … I think the prices will stabilize.

Consumers in the United States won’t immediately recognize the difference: Jalisco avocados won’t carry any special labels and will simply be labeled as “avocados from Mexico” – a phrase promoted for years by Michoacan growers.

The head of the Michoacan-based Mexican Association of Avocado Producers and Packers, Jose Luis Gallardo, said he does not view Jalisco, or any of the other Mexican states that are now calling for certification of U.S. exports, to be a competition.

“Today is a day of joy for everyone, knowing that Jalisco is here, but it will be happier when the State of Mexico comes, when Nayarit, Colima, Puebla, Morelos come,” Gallardo said of the other states, noting there was room for more exports; last season’s production at Michoacan was down about 200,000 tons.

Mexico currently supplies about 92% of US fruit imports, and the Mexican Department of Agriculture says it is working to get more states certified. About half a dozen states grow significant amounts of the fruit, which prefers the higher elevations and cooler climates in Mexico.

Medina Villanueva noted that meeting US health requirements was not easy. “It took 10 years,” he said. “It took patience.”

US agricultural inspectors must certify that Mexican avocados do not carry diseases or pests that could harm US orchards. The Mexican harvest runs from January to March, while the US production runs from April to September.

Inspections were halted in February for about 10 days after one of the US inspectors was threatened in Michoacan, where growers are routinely extorted by drug cartels. Some Michoacan packers allegedly bought uncertified lawyers from other states and tried to pass them off as Michoacan, and were furious that the US inspector wouldn’t accept that.

Exports resumed after Mexico and the United States agreed “to adopt measures that ensure the safety” of inspectors.

Francisco Trujillo, the head of Mexico’s plant and animal safety agency, noted that the Michoacan export ban should be a lesson for Jalisco growers.

“Cautiousness should be part of this day of festivity,” Trujillo said, noting that avocados certified for export were worth four or five times more than those destined for domestic markets, creating “temptations” to pass off fruit not certified. “We could run the risk of this holiday becoming a tragedy” if the United States were to ban exports again, he said.

Exports were worth about $2.8 billion to Mexico in 2021. The price Mexican growers get for their crops — as little as $1 a pound — is still far higher than any other crop they might grow, at so much so that avocados have raised thousands of small producers. out of poverty.

Jalisco Governor Enrique Alfaro has acknowledged that his state will have to avoid problems that have undermined the reputation of avocados in Michoacan, where some growers have cut down native pine forests to plant avocado trees and dried up local water supplies to irrigate them. Drug cartels have also extorted protection payments from growers and packers of avocados.

Alfaro said Jalisco intends to “develop a safety program…so that this product can be produced in the orchards, shipped through Jalisco and reach its final destination safely.”

Alfaro also said he would push to certify Jalisco avocados as deforestation-free, which Michoacan has been slow to do.

“The idea of ​​pushing a plan to certify avocados as deforestation-free shouldn’t just be a problem for some growers. We want to establish this as an obligation for the good of the whole industry,” Alfaro said.

Anti-logging activist Guillermo Saucedo, who was abducted by gunmen in the town of Villa Madero, Michoacan in 2021, said he doubted the government or growers would take action in his forest-covered hamlet, where he said newly cleared fields, wells and retention ponds used to water avocado plantations continue to appear.

“Authorities are not acting,” Saucedo said. “They let them do what they want.”

At this point, Jalisco has only about 20,000 acres (8,420 hectares) of certified pest-free avocado orchards, a small amount compared to more than nearly 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) in Michoacan. But Alfaro said a further 65,000 acres (26,000 hectares) in Jalisco were on track to be certified.

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