As of July 1, the suspension of Argentinian fresh lemon exports to Europe came into force following several detections of black spot in some shipments upon arrival at European ports.
"In the last two weeks, the number of black spot detections has skyrocketed, so we believe that this has been a correct and necessary measure. As a sector, we have to find where the problem is in order to solve it. We are concerned about what has taken place this campaign, but we are even more concerned about what is to come. That is why I think Argentina should soon review the lemon export protocol for Europe. It is clear that this situation will bring changes and adjustments for future campaigns," says Francisco Rotella, commercial director of the Argentinian lemon producer and marketer Citrusvil.
"We were planning on exporting our lemons until between July 15 and 20, but with this we have basically put an early end to a disappointing campaign," says Rotella. "Considering that there are still some 50,000 tons of Argentinian lemons at sea, on their way to Europe, any shipments made after this break will be insignificant," he said.
According to the commercial director of this Tucumán-based company, the campaign started with great optimism among Argentinian exporters, but it soon ended in disappointment. "We saw the demand for lemons soaring due to consumers looking for sources of vitamin C. It actually looked like Spain was having problems to meet its orders. Besides, in order to avoid possible border blockages due to the pandemic and more complications in the production activity, the harvest in Argentina kicked off between 5 and 6 weeks early compared to the previous season. This campaign developed at a frenetic pace from the beginning. It is also worth noting that we have had very warm weather this year, without rainfall, and that this has accelerated the harvest."
The lemon market is very challenging right now. "The truth is that, since the beginning of the campaign, our lemons have faced strong competition from South Africa, which has shipped much larger volumes to Europe this year, seeking to expand its market share. Spain had a smaller Verna lemon harvest and this has helped prevent our situation from getting even worse, but prices fell and continue to stand at very low levels. Before shipments to Europe stopped, we had expected the situation to improve a bit in August, when there would have been a greater market gap," says Francisco Rotella.
Regarding the possible relocation of the lemon production that will not be shipped to Europe during this period of suspension, the commercial manager of Citrusvil said that they prefer not saturating the markets outside the EU. "We also export to countries like Russia and Ukraine, but we don't want to be reckless and ship more than they can take, which would cause the collapse of those markets. We will maintain the same strategy of arranging shipments together with all the companies that are part of All Lemon, which represents a large majority of the sector."
Of the 300,000 tons that Argentina had planned to export this campaign, a maximum of about 200,000 tons will be eventually shipped. "This reflects how difficult this season has been and the significant losses that have been caused by the sanitary crisis, which led to the packing process taking longer, as well as by black spot detections. This is certainly a campaign that will serve us to rethink the future of the activity."