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California lemon farmers wary of imported fruit

Elton Morris/Creative Commons

The United States Department of Agriculture recent published a final rule to allow lemons from Argentina into the country, a decision that has the California lemon industry on edge. 

This announcement doesn’t sit well with the $650 million dollar U.S. lemon industry. California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelson says the citrus industry as whole is afraid of pests making into the country. 

"Now it's not that we’re afraid of competition, but when it comes to bringing product in from a known pest infested area and a nation that has a history of not adhering to protocol we start to draw the line," Nelson said.

The rule was published in May and more than 400 comments were made on the proposal. A November visit to Argentina deemed the country able to meet the requirements of the plan. The publishing of the rule is just one step of many before the fruit could make it here. Even still Nelson says this could make it tough for California growers to farm lemons in the long run.

“You have a price war until somebody loses and somebody wins," Nelson said. "And that ends up stealing shelf space at a much lower price than what it takes to farm in California.”

Nelson said the lemons could make it to the United States as early as April, but before then the country will have to prove they have safeguarding measures in place. Nelson says the fruit could also displace lemons coming into the U.S. from other countries and maybe even lower the price received by U.S. growers by about two percent.