Summer Citrus Bummer

Summer Citrus Shortage

Mimosas and margaritas may soon get a heftier price tag as the United States is currently facing a severe citrus shortage because of a perfect storm of freezes, droughts, pests, and cartels.

The first fruit to bear the burden of scarcity is the lime. Perfect for margaritas, salsas, and my much loved guacamole, lemon's zesty cousin is usually imported from Mexico, but this year there has been a dearth of them, no thanks to heavy rain, crop disease, and cartel hijackers. The United States gets 97 percent of its limes from Mexico, so the shortage has caused prices here to spike sixfold. And we won’t be able to rely on California and Florida to pick up the slack.

Florida has been battling a citrus “greening” disease, or huanglongbing, outbreak since 2005. The malady kills trees from root to branch and has cost the state an estimated $4.5 billion since 2005. It’s believed to have spread to over half the groves, and no cure has been found. Compounding that problem is a recent freeze that left some Panhandle trees dead.

Although California farmers have so far dodged the huanglongbing plague, they are faced with a decimating drought, thought to be caused by a warming trend linked to greenhouse gas emissions. Mark Schwartz, from the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis, said that drought cannot be directly attributed to climate change, but projections suggest that these droughts will become more frequent.

“In the Central Valley it’s becoming dire,” said Alyssa Houtby from the California Citrus Mutual. “We expect 50,000 acres [of citrus] to be lost due to not receiving water this year, resulting in a $3 billion hit to the California economy over five years.”

California has the largest fresh citrus industry in the country, concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley and along the central coast; Florida has more citrus acreage, but much of that yield goes to juice. Eighty-five percent of the nation’s lemons come from California groves, and mandarin and navel oranges are also grown in significant numbers. Consumers are not the only ones impacted by the shrinking citrus supply; the ripple effect on jobs and commerce can be pervasive. In 1990, a severe freeze almost shut down California citrus production entirely, and it took five years for some communities to rebound, according to Houtby.

In the meantime, Scurvy Awareness Day is around the corner, and limes cost $1 each in some places, which means lemons may become the citrus of choice for our favorite cocktails and dips.



- image courtesy of iStock/ElenaGaak

Bianca Hernandez is the Acting Web Editor at Sierra. She recently received her MA in Visual Anthropology from the University of Southern California and has written for various publications.



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- image courtesy of iStock/ElenaGaak