Growing Limes in Florida: A Sweet and Sour History for Growers


Limes were once so plentiful in south Florida that one of the varieties grown here was known as a Key lime because it was grown around the Florida Keys.  Then, a “perfect storm” of Hurricane Andrew, citrus canker, and insect pests came together to push limes out of Florida.  However, it looks as if limes are making a comeback in The Sunshine State, and growing demand will make it a valuable crop.

Limes in Florida
Limes have a long history in Florida, but their production peaked in 1985 with 152 million pounds harvested.  Then, in the mid-1990s, citrus canker reared its ugly head right after Hurricane Andrew decimated south Florida and the lime groves located there.  To add insult to injury, the citrus leafminer showed up to spread citrus canker even faster.
Since the prescribed method of dealing with canker was to remove infected trees and those close by, the culmination of the three events spelled the demise of Florida’s lime industry.  Until recently.

Efforts to Revitalize Limes in Florida
Time has shown that citrus canker isn’t as bad as once thought— it certainly pales in comparison to citrus greening— and Florida growers have begun to plant limes again.  So far, both the Key limes that were historically grown in Florida and the hardier Persian limes have been free of citrus greening.
Lime tree plantings can’t mature fast enough.  While it takes about seven years for a citrus tree to mature and produce fruit, the demand for limes continues to increase.  According to USDA data, the average per-person consumption of limes in the U.S. in 1990/91 was .75 pounds a year, and by 2012/13 it has increased to 2.96 pounds per person, per year.  They are in-demand for both the fresh and processed markets.
With a little investment and good water and pest/disease management, limes could be growing all over Florida once again in the not-so-distant future.

This column is sponsored by AgAmerica Lending. 

BIO: Donald Harden, a Relationship Manager for AgAmerica Lending, grew up in the cattle and citrus business, managing a family ranch of several thousand cattle and horses. He has more than 30 years of experience in the real estate business, and more than 20 years specializing in agricultural sales. Don has owned and operated farm and ranch supply stores, machinery auction companies, and farms. He has served as a director and on the board of the Cattlemen’s Association, as the manufacturer’s representative for ag equipment companies, and as a beef cattle specialist for a national feed company. Don has traveled across the U.S. as a sales rep, conducting seminars and fostering long-lasting business relationships. Don enjoys his work at AgAmerica, as he has never met a stranger. For more information, visit  AgAmerica.com.

by

DON HARDEN