The Argentine citrus sector, one of the country's most important agricultural sectors, is at a crossroads because of the early closure of the citrus export campaign to the European Union due to phytosanitary problems.
"Citrus fruits are Argentina's most important group of fruits. They have the highest production, are the most distributed fruits, invoice the most, employ the most people, and generate an important income of foreign currency to the country," said the president of Federcitrus, Dr. Jose Carbonell.
For years, Argentina -like the other southern countries- has had to comply with a strict phytosanitary protocol to be able to export its citrus fruits to northern markets. This protocol is mainly focused on quarantine pests, where the black spot is one of the most complicated pests to manage, Carbonell stated. “It requires the application of specific agrochemicals, which can't be used if the fruit is going to be sent to the oil industry, as is the case of lemon. In addition, it's not easy to detect because it's an evolutionary disease and it frequently only appears when the fruit is in transit.”
However, the plague has acquired greater relevance in Argentina this year. "In contrast to other years, the Argentine northwest is suffering a very marked drought. The drought, added to certain temperatures, led to the infection having a higher incidence than usual. The other thing that complicates managing this pest in Argentina is that many producers in Tucuman can't apply certain agrochemicals to their lemons because they are going to be used by the industry. This differentiates Argentina from countries like South Africa, where the application of these products is more common because it basically allocates all of its production to the fresh market,” stated Carbonell.
"This doesn't mean we don't have room for improvement. There were companies that managed to work the fruit very well and had no problems, while others did not. The latter will have to do a great job of revision and adjustment. There's no doubt about it."
The European ban on citrus imports from Argentina will last until next year; a time the Argentine sector will use to review its phytosanitary protocols. “The sector, as well as each company, is reviewing all the production and packaging processes, looking for errors and detecting weak points. They are carrying out internal audits and reviewing protocols. In addition, the European Union has scheduled an audit. In addition to the phytosanitary issue and the uncertainty regarding export possibilities, the sector is affected by the climatic conditions that continue to be adverse.”