USDA approves export of Mexican avocados from Jalisco to the United States
The Mexican avocado industry is celebrating the addition of the Jalisco region to the US market following certification from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
The certification offers buyers of American avocados a second region in Mexico to source products from, previously American stores only had avocados from the Michoacán region.
For 25 years, the Michoacán region was the only region with access to the American market.
A new region could help with prices, which have soared to more than $2 per fruit this year amid a drop in production in Michoacán.
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.
“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 think the entry of Jalisco will solve that supply shortage. … I think prices will stabilize.”
Eleven trucks carrying nearly 20 tonnes of avocados from Jalisco lined up in the mountain town of Zapotlan El Grande on Thursday to leave for the United States.
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Consumers in the United States won’t immediately recognize the difference: Jalisco avocados won’t carry any special labels and will 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 avocado trees, which prefer 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.”
The United States is strict on these imports to protect American avocado growers from harmful pests and diseases. US domestic production is supplemented by imports, as the Mexican harvest runs from January to March, while 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 Michoacán, where growers are routinely extorted by drug cartels. Some Michoacán packers allegedly bought avocados from other uncertified states and tried to pass them off as Michoacán and were furious that the US inspector wouldn’t accept the program.
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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 Michoacán’s export ban should be a lesson for producers in Jalisco.
“Cautiousness should be part of this day of celebration,” 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.
Jalisco Governor Enrique Alfaro has acknowledged that his state will have to avoid problems that have undermined the reputation of avocados in Michoacán, 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 plans 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’s avocados as deforestation-free, something Michoacán has been slow to do.
“The idea of pushing a plan to certify avocados as free from deforestation shouldn’t be a problem for some growers. We want to establish this as an obligation for the good of the whole industry,” Alfaro said.
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 Michoacán. But Alfaro said a further 65,000 acres (26,000 hectares) in Jalisco were on track to be certified.
But it’s unclear whether exporting more avocados would hurt Mexican consumers, many of whom have been unable to afford their traditional guacamole – and the avocado slices that accompany many foods in Mexico – after prices Domestic prices have hit close to $3 a pound in recent weeks.
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Pseudo-guacamole recipes, made largely with green tomatoes or zucchini, have been circulating on social media sites in Mexico amid soaring prices. Along with higher costs for limes, this has contributed to higher taco prices at street stalls.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.