Citrus Growers Oppose USDA Move to Import Argentine Lemons

By Casey Wooten

May 9 — The Agriculture Department has said it will propose allowing lemons from Argentina into the U.S., a move that has left some domestic citrus growers sour.

The agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said in a statement May 6 that it would publish proposed rules May 10 in the Federal Register to allow in lemons from the South American country, saying that after a risk analysis it had determined they were safe for import.

Some U.S. citrus farmers say that's not enough, however.

“Today, while the U.S. industry is fighting to stay vibrant against the ravages of an incurable disease, Huanglongbing, the Obama Administration wishes to bring more fruit from pest infested and diseased areas,” Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, which represents citrus growers in the state, said in a May 6 statement.

Also known as citrus greening disease, Huanglongbing, is a fatal bacterial infection spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, which first hit U.S. orchards in 1998.

Imports of Argentine lemons have been banned since 2001.

Preventative Measures

The USDA said in a statement announcing the proposed rule that its existing system to prevent the spread of pests and disease—which includes registration and monitoring of production places, grove sanitation and fruit disinfection—is adequate for Argentine lemons.

“All shipments would require a phytosanitary certificate with an additional declaration stating that the lemons have been inspected and found to be free of quarantine pests and were produced in accordance with the proposed requirements,” the May 6 USDA statement said.

Trade Gap

Nelsen said the proposed rule “defied logic” and would increase the agricultural trade gap between the U.S. and Argentina.

According to an economic study performed by the USDA, the proposed rule's impact on U.S. citrus growers may be mitigated because Argentine lemon imports would come during the offseason.

“Because of the provisions of the rule, we expect that most lemons would be exported between April 1 and August 31, a period that coincides roughly with the months in which U.S. lemon exports are declining and imports are increasing,” the 2015 study said.

Top Exporter

A January 2016 report by the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service on the global citrus trade said that Argentina was the fourth-largest exporter of lemons and limes between 2014 and 2015, shipping 185,000 metric tons. Mexico topped the list at 600,000 metric tons over the same period. The U.S. was the top importer.

The USDA's economic report on the proposed rule said Argentina's lemon exports to the U.S. were expected to range from 15,000 metric tons to 20,000 metric tons. That could drop the average price of lemons by about 4 percent in the U.S., the study said.

The deadline for public comments on the proposed rule is July 11.

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

For More Information

Text of the January report on the citrus trade is available at

Text of the USDA's economic report on the proposed rule is available at