California citrus industry will keep fighting federal plan to import lemons from Argentina

LEMOORE, Calif. (KFSN) -- The recent ruling as it relates to lemons by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is not sitting well with local citrus industry leaders.

The final rule allows fresh lemons to be imported to the United States from Northwest Argentina

"It was upsetting," said California Citrus Mutual President and CEO Joel Nelsen, who says his trade association has been fighting the effort for months.

Above all, there's a major concern that with the fruit, could come disease carrying pests.

The USDA says they've reviewed Argentina's citrus production process over the course of a decade, which included three visits to the country.

They have since determined they can safely import the lemons to the states, with many specific safeguards in place.

"(The) USDA is using this vehicle as a way to satisfy a foreign government," Nelsen said. "Parties that have no use of citrus, they just want to move cartons and it adversely affects the industry."

Nelsen says USDA officials have admitted it will negatively affect U.S. lemon producers, packers, and wholesalers. He believes growers will have to spend more money on tools to protect their crop from deadly diseases.

And when Argentinian lemons arrive, Nelsen says it will create a price war-one where California will struggle to compete.

But really, he says the new agreement won't benefit anyone in the U.S., including consumers, even though the USDA estimates a reduction in lemon prices by as much as 4% percent.

Nelsen says the California citrus industry is not opposed to competition, from Mexico to Morocco. But he believes history has shown Argentina can't play by the rules.

"But when it comes in from a pest and disease infested area without the appropriate mitigation steps, creating more vulnerability for our industry, yeah we're going to go to war," Nelsen said.

The ruling becomes effective soon, and the lemons could come as soon as April.

But Nelsen isn't going to sit around and wait.

Among other things, there's still a work plan that has to be finalized, and he plans to be a part of it.
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