After hurricanes blew the domestic lime industry out of the U.S. in the early 1990s, Mexico took over the business. It won’t be coming back, citrus marketers and growers say.
“The reality is, we import more limes through Texas, in the area of 22 million a year,” said John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association, Mission.
“Good limes used to be grown quite extensively in both California and Florida. I don’t think there’s 100 acres of limes left in Florida, and California has a kind of very slow organic urban stock lime industry. It has become something that can be produced dependably in Mexico.”
More consumers appear to be eating limes these days.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, per-capita consumption of fresh limes increased from nearly 1 pound per person in 1989 to 2.5 pounds in 2009.
Only the most tropical of U.S. climates were amenable to lime production, anyway, so the likelihood that domestic production will come back is nil, said David Krause, president of Delano, Calif.-based Paramount Citrus Association Inc.
“Limes are a very tropical product by nature, and there are just very few locations in the U.S. that would be frost-free to produce a lime of good quality,” he said.
“Our supply comes from Mexico. That’s just where they grow it.”
Paramount, in fact, is looking for more lime acreage in southern Mexico, Krause said.
Limes are a key product out of Mexico, said Tom Wollenman, general manager of Lindsay, Calif.-based LoBue Bros.
“There’s a little bit around San Diego and maybe a little around Florida, but one of the larger citrus entities has purchased large lime holdings in Mexico, and that’s the way that’s working,” he said.