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AGRICULTURE–China Opens Doors to Local Citrus Crop Exports



Agriculture: Shipments May Start When Mex Fly Quarantine Is Lifted

Local citrus growers are elated by an announcement that China will allow imports of San Diego’s citrus crop to their country.

The move is expected to resolve a longstanding trade issue between the United States and China.

At the same time, it may come to the rescue of local growers, who’ve watched the price for their oranges fall below the cost to grow them.

The breakthrough came late last month, when the Chinese sent a delegation to California to inspect crops, said Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

“The delegation was trying to ensure the fruit we have here is clean and free of pests. They don’t want to import any food that has insects on them, just as we wouldn’t want to import any food here that has insects on them. So they inspected throughout the state and spent time in San Diego County,” Larson said.

Larson hopes sales will begin this summer, after a local quarantine against the Mexican fruit fly expires. Once that happens, any citrus in San Diego County will be eligible for export, he said.

Quarantine Expires In Summer

John Blasius, senior agriculture biologist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said the quarantine is anticipated to end in June. However, that’s not yet certain.

“It all depends on the life cycle of the insect, that is temperature dependent, and is also if we do not find any more flies,” Blasius said.

Once the quarantine is lifted, that would enhance San Diego’s position in the face of increased competition, Larson said.

“You’re always looking for new markets. There has been a lot of expansion of the citrus industry in the San Joaquin Valley. Plus, we’re getting a lot of imports of citrus into the state from Mexico. So anytime you can open a market, that’s good for the industry,” he said.

Citrus is the third-biggest crop in San Diego County, behind nursery crops and avocados. In 1998, the most recent year for which figures are available, the county grew $640 million worth of all nursery crops combined, $130 million of avocados, and $73 million worth of citrus.

Al Stehley, representing local orange growers Corona College Heights, did not have a figure for how much local citrus would be going to China. But he guessed that penetration would be minimal at first.

Initial Exports Limited

“It’s going to be limited by the infrastructure there. In other words, we can’t go too far from the harbors and big cities because they don’t have a lot of refrigerated trucks to transport produce with,” Stehley said.

But as China becomes more sophisticated, sales of local citrus would increase.

“It’s a huge market. There’s a lot of people there, and we’d love to sell them citrus,” he said.

The added market for oranges should increase the price farmers have been getting , which currently is lagging at $7 to $15 for a 40-pound carton.

“And that’s really, really low. There’s so many navels on the market that it’s depressing the market. And some growers have elected not to harvest, which I think is the prudent thing, and others are just picking, and they’re going to take a loss,” Stehley said. “We need $12 or $13 just to break even.”

Although farmers will see increased prices for their oranges, that should not translate into more expensive citrus at the local grocery store , simply because the prices are high to begin with.

When the wholesale price of oranges plummeted from $23 a carton last autumn, the cost at the supermarket didn’t change, Stehley said.

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