U.S. importers and Argentina officials say a reported fruit fly larvae find in an Argentina lemon packinghouse isn’t expected to derail just-arriving U.S. imports of lemons this summer. ( Government of Argentina )

(UPDATED May 11) A fruit fly find in a lemon packinghouse in Argentina won’t derail fruit that’s just started to arrive in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A February court decision in favor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2017 approval of the import of Argentine lemons set the stage for the first U.S. imports in 17 years this summer. The first container vessel with Argentina lemons arrived in New York on May 9, according to an importer.

The fruit fly larvae find happened as part of a new process etablished by USDA, Juan Manzu, governor of Argentina’s Tucumán province, told the Argentina news outlet El Cronista. He told El Cronista in a May 8 story that there has been no new prohibition against lemon shipments to the U.S. as a result of the find.

The USDA confirmed the larvae find. In a May 11 e-mail statement, William Wepsala, public affairs specialist for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said there have been no fruit fly detections at U.S. ports of entry to date and the pest detection in Argentina won’t change the status of the lemon imports.

The fruit fly detection came during routine packinghouse inspections, according to Wepsala. The lot was removed from the shipment and the production site it came from was suspended.

As a condition of entry to the U.S., lemons from the northwest region of Argentina must be produced with a prescribed set of measures taken by growers, packers, and shippers to reduce the risk of importing fruit flies and other pests.

Commercial shipments must also be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate with a declaration from Argentina’s national plant protection organization stating that the lemons were produced in accordance with the systems approach and have been inspected and found to be free of quarantine pests, according to the USDA.

APHIS also requires that lemons from northwest Argentina to be harvested green and within a certain time period.


Season beginning

Mike Mahon, business development manager for Citromax, Carlstadt, N.J., said May 10 that the company hadn’t yet received Argentina lemon imports to the U.S. but a shipment was expected soon.

Alex Teague, senior vice president, chief operating officer for Limoneira Co., Santa Paula, Calif., said the fruit fly larvae find was apparently detected by Argentina’s plant health officials.

“We feel comfortable that the process will catch any problems such as that,” he said. “We are continuing on as originally planned.”

In April, Limoneira announced it had joined with F.G.F. Trapani SA, Padilla Citrus SA and EarlyCrop SA to form Grupo Argentino. At the time, Limoniera said it could handle about 400,000 cartons of Argentina lemons this summer.

Teague said May 10 that Limoneira had its own suppliers’ orchards retested and found no pest concerns, he said. He said Argentina’s exporters are being careful to comply with pest safeguards.

Teague said the first vessel container with Argentina lemons landed in New York May 9 and the shipment was cleared for distribution by USDA plant health officials.

U.S. Department of Agriculture shipment statistics and terminal market price reports didn’t yet reflect lemon volume from Argentina as of May 10.

With shipments expected mostly from May through August, trade officials have estimated total Argentina lemon shipments to the U.S. could total about 20,000 metric tons, or about 1 million cartons.