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published on December 21, 2016 - 1:18 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
Local citrus growers are crying foul over the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision to allow the import of lemons from northwest Argentina.

 

It’s been 15 years since the U.S. banned exports of the lemon fruit from that region, which U.S. growers characterize as “pest and disease infested,” according to a news release from the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

Joel Nelsen, California Citrus Mutual president, said in a statement that the proposal comes as the citrus industry is still reeling from shrinking revenues. He said receipts for the 2014-15 crop were down $600 million compared to the previous year.

“Former President Eisenhower once stated that farming is easy when you are one thousand miles from the field and your plow is a pencil,” Nelsen said. “I guess the White House believes more in what foreign producers, importers and governments say than domestic providers of food security and scientists that participate in that process.”

The USDA’s Animal and Plant health Inspection Service has been reviewing Argentina’s lemon production and packing practices for the last 10 years, including site visits in 2007, 2015 and in September of this year.

“As a result, APHIS has determined lemons produced in northwest Argentina can be safely imported into the continental United States utilizing a systems approach,” according to the agency.

Safeguards would include registration and monitoring of production areas and packinghouses, grove sanitation, pest control practices, traceability and inspections by the Argentine National Plant Protection Organization.

California lemon growers are up in arms that the rule would invariably hurt their industry.

“Today my production costs are increasing,” said Richard Pidduck, a citrus grower and chair of the U.S. Citrus Science Council. “As I battle a number of introduced pests in order to provide a quality product for American consumers. As my costs go up I become less competitive in a fresh market as less expensive off shore product steal shelf space.”

The new rule has been sent to the Federal Register and will become effective 30 days after it is published. The USDA said it must also verify six months of fruit fly trapping data before Argentine lemons can be shipped.


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