Argentine Lemons May Bring Disease

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

California lemon growers are feeling the squeeze due to the startling news of the USDA’s ruling to allow Argentine lemon imports into the U.S. Those lemons from Argentina could be carrying an invasive insect, along with a disease not found in California.

“It’s a big concern,” said Joel Nelsen, President of the California Citrus Mutual based in Exeter. One of the main issues of concern is the citrus black spot and a certain mite that can vector another citrus disease called leprosis. “I’m not too worried about the Huanglongbing disease from Argentina because fruit doesn’t vector that, but the mites, they hide under the calix end of a naval orange, and the citrus black spot is on the surface of skin, and there’s no known cure for either one of them” Nelsen said.

Of course, neither this pest or disease is present in California’s agriculture. Nelsen thinks that, “being a fresh-oriented industry, both of those two – pest and disease – could be very detrimental to our fresh production in California. We’re very disappointed with the USDA ruling.”

Citrus with black spots would be quite the eyesore in the produce aisles of California. “It’s a vehement disagreement between the USDA and us. Citrus black spot does exist in Florida,” Nelsen said. “It was introduced there, but no one knows how. It was discovered, and it has been spreading. Now, instead of having one block of fruit, one county, you have over a dozen different counties with citrus black-spotted citrus.

“It’s not as draconian in Florida as it would be here because the Florida product is mostly juice, whereas ours goes fresh” Nelsen said. “No consumer wants to go to the store and find black spots on citrus. Plus, the disease leads to early decay on the exterior of the fruit. It would be a devastating disease to us.”