December 26, 2007 Mexico

But don't expect the price of Patrón to fall too much Mexico: "TEQUILA, Mexico — Around the time the millennium turned, armed guards protected agave plantations from robbers. Such was the high price of the primary ingredient of Mexico's national firewater.

These days there's so much agave azul that farmers are selling it well below cost — if they're lucky enough to find a buyer at all.

'I waited seven years for this,' said Victoriano Pérez, 67, referring to the time it takes for agave to mature.

'I'd rather let it rot' than sell it for a quarter of his cost, he said.

And rot it will.

Some 1.5 million metric tons of ripe agave came onto the market in 2007 and the tequila industry will use only half of it. A similar surplus is expected in 2008.

Tequila makers aren't complaining, of course, but the thousands of farmers who grow agave are seeing red.

Millions of dollars in federal money to bail out farmers hasn't been distributed. Some farmers reportedly burned their agave in desperation and planted corn instead.

Farmer protests could be a fixture of tequila-country visitor tours through 2009.

Industry observers saw the glut coming as long as a decade ago.

In the late 1990s, tequila's popularity skyrocketed outside Mexico and annual production more than doubled in a three-year span.

It aggravated a decades-old boom-bust cycle in agave production, pushing prices to 18 pesos ($1.80) per kilogram."

(incidentally, since the Patrón logo is a bee, surely that is a sign from it was destined to be my beverage of choice?)

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