California lemon growers and their allies are seeking reinforcements in their campaign against proposed imports from Argentina.
Now both sides in this cross-border citrus clash will get more time to rally. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture extended until Aug. 10 a public comment period that’s already revealed deep anxiety within the U.S. lemon industry.
“We do not need any more problems with disease and unknown chemicals on imported fruit,” declared Lyle Neutz, a resident of Tulare County in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
Neutz’s emailed comment was one of 150 the Agriculture Department had received through Monday, the original deadline. Many commenters voiced opposition, often using identical language.
“We need to know more about Argentina’s production practices, pests and disease risks before we let their growers ship to the U.S.,” cautioned Dan Adams, a citrus grower from the Tulare County community of Visalia.
Argentina’s advocates, too, have been planting comments in hopes of swaying Agriculture Department officials who must make a diplomatically and politically charged decision.
I am a California citrus farmer fighting to keep devastating diseases and pests – including HLB, the Asian citrus psyllid, citrus black spot and more –out of my grove every day. John B. Lamb, Camlam Farms, Camarillo, California
“This proposed rule is the result of more than 10 years of technical negotiations between the U.S. and Argentina to provide the import authorization with the scientific support that this trade decision needs to be based on,” said José F.F. Carbonell, the president of the Federacion Argentina del Citrus.
Carbonell noted that Argentine lemons would be shipped during the off-season for U.S. lemon growers, providing “the U.S. consumer with a more stable supply year-round.” The Argentine lemons would primarily enter the United States between April 1 and Aug. 31, according to the Agriculture Department. The marketing season for California lemons runs year-round and the Arizona lemon season runs from September to March, according to the department.
California producers account for about 92 percent of commercial U.S. lemon production, and Arizona growers are responsible for about 8 percent. The U.S. lemon crop was valued at $647 million in the 2013-14 season, the most recent year cited by the Agriculture Department.
Under an Agriculture Department proposal made public in May, lemons from northwest Argentina would be admitted to the United States if produced and handled in a designated manner. The proposal specifies registration, monitoring, pest control and harvesting requirements, among others.
An average of nearly 20,000 tons of lemons from Argentina would likely enter the United States annually, according to the Agriculture Department. U.S. lemon production averaged nearly 548,235 tons annually from 2008 to 2013.
“The price decline would be about 2 percent” for U.S. consumers, the Agriculture Department estimated.
Not for the first time, Congress has been drawn into the fight.
“I have heard from a number of Arizona residents and citrus farmers who have serious concerns about the impact this rule, if enacted, would have on many businesses throughout Arizona,” advised the state’s Sen. John McCain, a Republican.
The California growers have likewise been forwarding their concerns to their respective members of Congress.
In 2000, the Bill Clinton administration riled California farmers and the state’s congressional delegation by lifting an earlier ban on Argentina’s citrus. Some growers sued, and the ban was reimposed in 2001.
Argentina officials, in turned, filed a dispute in 2012 with the World Trade Organization. The WTO took no action, but negotiations ensued between the United States and Argentina.