My first interest in organic lime imports from Mexico came in 2014 when there was a major shortage in the United States and lime prices spiked the a crazy price per case.
At that moment some people in the industry were calling around to see who had access to limes.
Since then, I've kept my eye on limes and paid attention to the markets and supplies. At the produce trade shows I always made it a point to learn about limes and meet lime growers, especially from Mexico.
In the 1960s all the US limes came from Southern Florida, specifically Homestead. Homestead is known a mecca in our industry for the breeding of tropical and sub-tropical fruits. Back in the day it was regarded as a production center for limes.
In doing research I reread an important lime related article from Time Magazine written in April of 2014. The article by Katy Steinmetz titled "Why There Is No Lime Industry in America Anymore" does a great job of explaining the history of industrial limes and taking a snapshot of the lime crisis at that moment in April of 2014. When the article was written a 40 lb box of limes in San Francisco was selling for $120.
However, hurricane Andrew in 1992 pretty much wiped the lime industry in Homestead off the map overnight. In Veracruz, Mexico, entrepreneurs saw the opportunity and began to plant Persian limes in great quantity. Mexico has cheaper labor costs and land prices, and was able to gain a competitive advantage.
Although some of the larger companies in Southern Florida replanted, a disease known as citrus canker spread in the lime industry, and soon after all the lime trees were mandated for eradication.
At this point, given the low costs of production in Mexico, and the high risk of hurricane and disease in Florida, the US pretty much gave up the industry to the Mexicans, who dominate the US lime market. While California is a major producer of lemons with 41,000 acres as of 2014, limes made up only 400 acres at that time. Lemons are more cold tolerant and a safer bet for those cool Pacific evenings.
Fast forward a few years to today and the US market continues to be dominated by lime growers from Mexico, led by the region of Veracruz.
It will be interesting to see how the industry in Mexico evolves in the next few years, and how the rise in organic demand will impact the growing industry south of the border.
Here is the full article from Time Magazine.