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Lime market getting back to normal

Most everyone seems to agrees that the winter-spring lime market that reached dizzying heights was quite possibly a once-in-a-lifetime event that won't soon reappear.

Punctuating that fact is the current lime market, which has the smallest fruit — 230s to 250s — selling for $8-12 per carton, which is just a small fraction of the price they bought during the height of the shortage.

There is still a shortage of the largest fruit — 175 per carton and larger — but that market is still in the more normal $20-40 range.

"If you can find any," commented Dennis Coffman, a salesman with lime specialist Brandt Produce Inc. in Edinburg, TX. "Nobody really has that fruit, and when they do they only have 200 or 300 cartons at a time."

But Coffman tells buyers to be patient.

"They have gotten some rain down there [in Mexico], and the big fruit is coming," Coffman said. "Within four to six weeks, we should have large fruit again."

Reviewing the March-April timeframe when the market was at its peak, Coffman said, "I've been selling limes since 1987 and the best market I had ever seen before was $60-$65 [per carton], and that would only last for a few days. This time, the market exceeded $100 and stayed there for six weeks."

He said weather conditions produced very light winter crops of both Persian and Key limes, which was further reduced by wind and then exacerbated by growers chasing the hot market and stripping their trees.

Both the Mexican domestic market, which prefers the Key limes, and the export market, which fancies the Persian limes, were bidding on the same fruit.

"It was a perfect storm," said the South Texas salesman.

Coffman said there is no indication that the trees themselves were hurt or that the earlier market will have lingering effects. As the summer moves on and demand for limes is traditionally higher, he said supplies should be adequate and the market should stay at a more normal level.