( File photo )

South Africa could see an expansion of citrus growing regions that are approved for shipment to the U.S., but if it happens it likely won’t be before the 2019 season.

On June 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published an agenda of planned regulations and listed South Africa citrus on its to-do list for a final regulation.

Estimating the final rule to be in place by September, the USDA said the regulation will allow the importation of several varieties of fresh citrus fruit, as well as citrus hybrids, into the continental U.S. from areas in the Republic of South Africa where citrus black spot has been known to occur. 

As a condition of entry, the USDA said the fruit will have to be produced in accordance with a systems approach that includes shipment traceability, packinghouse registration and procedures, and phytosanitary treatment. 

The USDA first made the proposal in August 2014. The proposal drew heavy opposition from California Citrus Mutual at the time because of the potential risk for citrus black spot and other pests from South African imports to hurt California’s citrus crops. 

In addition, the group said the USDA’s economic analysis of increased South African imports on U.S. citrus growers was lacking.

The USDA has not made any definitive decisions yet, said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, Calif. Even so, the apparent intent to allow more fruit in from South Africa is alarming, he said June 19. “We are expressing concerns about it,” he said. Nelsen said U.S. citrus faces stiff tariffs in China at the same time the USDA apparently wants to increase domestic competition by adding citrus fruit from a region in South Africa where Nelsen said growers have a hard time controlling false codling moth and citrus black spot.

USDA public affairs specialist  William Wepsala said in a June 19 email the agency is working on the final rule and hopes to publish it soon.

While shipments of South Africa citrus have been permitted to the U.S. from the Western Cape region for more than 10 years, Gray Vinson, South African citrus commodity manager for Seald Sweet LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., said South African exporters would like to see permission extended to other citrus areas in the country.

Some in South Africa saw the June 11 notice and assumed the USDA’s planned regulation had already been published, he said. The best case scenario, he said, appears to be expanded access for the 2019 marketing season, he said.