Limes, which as recently as a year ago sometimes went on sale at ten for a dollar, are suddenly commanding prices as high as 99 cents apiece. If you use a lot of limes in drinks or in cooking, you may find yourself having to substitute lemons-- which aren’t that cheap lately, either.
The basic reason for the rise in lime prices is that the U.S. now relies primarily on Mexican limes. This year, there was a lot of rain during the normally dry season in Mexico, causing fungal rot on some of the fruit. In addition there has been an outbreak of an imported bacterial disease, Huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening or yellow dragon disease, which is spread by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid. This disease causes the fruit to become bitter, and eventually can kill the tree.
The pin-head sized psyllid, which first appeared in Asia in the late 19th century, has caused widespread citrus crop loss in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Brazil. It was found in Florida in 1998, and began to affect citrus trees there in 2005. It has recently been discovered in California, but has not yet caused widespread problems there. Research to curb or treat this disease has been funded under the current farm bill.
It didn’t help that many of this winter’s cold snaps reached as far south as mid-Florida. American consumption of citrus products, especially limes, is outstripping the country’s ability to produce them, hence the reliance on Mexican citrus fruit, particularly limes. But in addition to Mexico’s fungal and bacterial problems, there have been rumors of criminal activity in Mexico’s lime-growing area that may have pushed the price up further.
Prices were expected to stabilize in April but have not done so yet. This may be the year that thrifty cooks learn to make guacamole and salsa without limes.