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Lime expansion proves strong in a countercurrent

TECOMAN, COLIMA —Sometimes it is good to buy when others are selling.

Starting in 2010, many Mexican citrus growers sold their farms rather than face citrus greening disease, which is technically known as Huanglongbing disease, or HLB. This has no impact on human health but can be a deadly threat to several types of citrus trees.2016-4-28-1250-Daniel-Carmen-OchoaDaniel Gudiño and his mother, Carmen Ochoa, who with her husband in 1989 founded a lime processing plant that has grown to become a vertically integrated business.

SiCar Farms bucked the trend, believing it could avoid greening disease through the proper management of rootstocks and biological controls of the Asian citrus psyllid, a tiny mottled brown insect that is a vector of the bacterium associated with citrus greening.

This plan has worked for SiCar and the family-owned-and-operated company is flourishing. The firm has grown fast, but, “this expansion was driven by our customers. It was not a case of ‘grow-grow-grow’ without any sense,” said Daniel Gudiño Ochoa.

SiCar is a portmanteau, derived from the first letters of the first names of Sigifredo Gudiño and his wife, Carmen Ochoa, who launched the lime processing company Citrojugo S.A. de C.V. in Tecomán, Colima, in 1980.

According to their youngest son, Daniel Gudiño Ochoa, SiCar in 1989 opened a fresh lime packinghouse. He said that in 2008, the Mission, TX, fresh produce importing and distributing company Limex SiCar Ltd & Co. was launched.  

Because of HLB, citrus land prices in this area began falling in 2010.  Daniel Gudiño indicated that lime prices have risen 5-10 percent per year since that time. While careful rootstock choices have held off HLB in SiCar groves, the management of Asian citrus psyllid has also been helped by a strong new biological control program launched this year.2016-4-28-1257-limes-pouch-SiCarA finished fresh lime package is ready for shipment by SiCar.

The ecological control involves in-house breeding of the Lion of the Aphids, a green lacewing or Chrysoperla aphid. SiCar also brews a potion of garlic, onion, clove, cinnamon and pepper that is a deterrent to the citrus psyllid.   

“Five years ago, we sprayed (chemical pest controls) eight or nine times a year, at best, now we spray three times,” said Gudiño. “Our goal is zero within two or three years.”  

Limon SiCar in 2012 owned 750 acres of limes. In 2016, the firm is producing 5,250 acres. Ninety percent of this acreage is in Colima, with the remainder in Michoacán. The vast majority of this is key limes, but there are also Persian limes and, starting in 2017, lemons will be produced. Gudiño indicated the plan is to expand to 12,500 acres of citrus production by 2020.    

While SiCar harvests some limes throughout the year, the main harvest peak is from June through August. The company employs 1,000 workers during these key harvest and packing months.

SiCar is committed to food safety and social responsibility programs. The packinghouse is approved by Mexico Calidad Suprema, and the operation will be Rain Forest Alliance approved by the end of this year.  

Today, SiCar namesakes Sigifredo and Carmen are presidents of the board of directors. Luis Gudiño heads Limex SiCar, which brother Daniel indicated is the largest-volume lime importer in the United States. Daniel runs the Mexican citrus production and packinghouse. A third brother, Sigifredo Gudiño Jr., runs Citrojugo, which Daniel describes as “the largest processing asset for limes in the world.” Citrojugo processes juice, oils, essence and peels.  

The firm uses cattle manure for its fertilizer compost, so the firm began producing beef cattle to generate the compost ingredient. Currently, 500 head of cattle are produced by the family. This April SiCar began construction of 50 acres of shadehouse Roma tomatoes. The firm also is a shipper of tamarind and coconuts, and the family owns a trucking company as well.