Persian lime industry introduced in south Texas

Persian lime production has been introduced to south Texas by U.S. Citrus LLC.

Mani Skaria, a retired citrus scientist, is the founder and chief executive officer of the firm.

Skaria’s lifetime of work in the citrus business led him to the business opportunities in growing — and soon packing — of fresh limes. From his high-density greenhouse nursery, came a sideline of selling young lime trees through The Home Depot.Abraham-ManiCheri Abraham, operations manager, and Mani Skaria.

His grove is in Hargill, where he purchased 500 acres. When The Produce News visited the grove last August, 120 were in production. Forty-five more acres have been planted since “and two more blocks are being planted as we speak,” he said on March 24.

While Persian limes are the firm’s largest-volume citrus variety, the farm also features Kumquat, Kaffir lime, Australian Finger lime, mandarins and others.

“We are the largest grower of Persian limes in the country,” Skaria said. “Micro-budded citrus, an all-natural budding process I introduced, is the backbone of our operation. Our trees produce fruit in two years instead of four to five years.”

For its work in micro-budded, small tree and higher-density citrus, U.S. Citrus has been selected as a finalist for the first annual Gateway to Innovation Awards at the Viva Fresh Expo.

The construction of a modern citrus packinghouse at U.S. Citrus will be completed by June “if all goes well,” he said. Skaria has taught graduate classes on the Food Safety Modernization Act, so he said those standards are certainly represented in his own operation.

For a variety of reasons, Florida’s commercial lime production is gone, Skaria said. The U.S. now imports 800 million pounds of limes. Of this, 75 percent comes from Mexico, with the remainder from Brazil and Peru, he added.

Skaria uses grass to suppress weed growth in his grove, thus using no herbicides, but this is not organic production. “I wouldn’t be able to grow economically if I grew to the organic standards today,” he said.

Beyond its commercial citrus business, U.S Citrus operates an online citrus plant sale program.

For his research work at Texas A&M University — Kingsville Citrus Center Skaria was the recipient of the prestigious Pott’s Award, recognizing outstanding scientific contribution and service to the citrus industry of Texas.

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