SACRAMENTO — The president of a citrus producers’ trade organization has high praise for USDA’s role in helping to reopen China to California citrus fruit after a 15-month hiatus.
China closed its doors to citrus in April 2013 because of brown rot discovered on fruit shipped there, said Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.
The country is now accepting oranges and other fruit under conditions negotiated by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, including fungicide applications and inspection of fruit before shipping, Nelsen said.
“We all complain about the inactivity of government and how they’re never sensitive to our needs,” he said. “I’ve got to hand it to USDA APHIS. They did a heck of a job on this and stayed on it. They said no when it was appropriate, they were frustrated as we were but they stayed on it until we got a deal.”
APHIS spokeswoman Abby Yigzaw noted that California citrus exports to China totaled $33.3 million in 2012, the last full calendar year such exports were conducted. China and the U.S. signed an agreement to reopen the market on Aug. 3.
“We were pleased that USDA and APHIS could assist in reducing barriers to trade, expand export opportunities, and help push agricultural exports to record levels,” Yigzaw said in an email.
Brown rot can occur on low-hanging fruit as a result of mud splashing up from the ground, Nelsen said. Fruit in the early stage of the disease may go unnoticed at harvest and infect other fruit during storage, explains the University of California’s Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program.
“They (Chinese officials) never told us if it was a piece of fruit in a carton or a carton in a load or several loads,” Nelsen said. “They told us, ‘We found it five times so we’re shutting you down.’ They said the original detections were in January, February and March of 2013 but they didn’t let us know until the end of April that there was a problem.”
After negotiations proceeded all last winter and into the spring, the agreement was reached after a small delegation of Chinese government officials toured operations in the San Joaquin Valley and Ventura area, Nelsen said.
As China has surpassed South Korea as the citrus industry’s No. 2 export destination behind Canada, the market’s closure last season might have caused the domestic market to be flooded with citrus fruit and depressed prices, Nelsen said. But the winter freeze that destroyed as much as 30 percent of last season’s navel orange crop kept prices up, he said.
California Citrus Mutual: www.cacitrusmutual.com
USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: www.aphis.usda.gov