Mexican citrus imports set to increase

We all know that one of the five C’s plastered on Arizona’s state seal stands for “citrus.” Drive east down Mesa’s Red Mountain 202 freeway long enough and you can still see rows and rows of well-producing orange trees that attest to that. But while we’re still producing healthy amounts of citrus on our own soil, most of those delicious oranges and limes you see in the stores are imported from places like California, Florida and Mexico.

In fact, the Mexican citrus export market in general is expected to gain speed this year, especially after Florida suffered citrus production losses due to last year’s long-drawn-out hurricane season. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service put out a report recently detailing the expected expansion of Mexican imports through the end of the 2018-2019 marketing year.

According to the report, which dived into fresh orange and lime production, growers in the northern states of Mexico have stated that fresh fruit exports to the U.S. for processing purposes have increased due to the decrease in Florida orange production.

But while the Mexican citrus import market may be growing, the United States is still the biggest supplier in the citrus market globally. More specifically, while any uptick in Mexican citrus imports is a good thing, it’s California citrus that is in high demand throughout Arizona.

According to Enrique Gracia of Flavor King Farms located in Nogales, Arizona should be more concerned about getting fresh citrus imports from our neighbor state next door, not down below.

“California being the largest marketer has the largest market share in the store for citrus. For that reason, you will always see more California oranges in Arizona just like in any other state,” he notes.

So, when it comes to Mexican citrus, any bump can be good for the economy as a whole. Nearly all fresh orange exports go to the U.S., and most oranges exported to the U.S. are navel oranges grown in Sonora, which lies directly to our south. Produce that makes its way into Arizona comes through the Nogales Port of Entry. It accounts for 33,000 jobs in the state and makes for a big economic impact. Nogales has been serving as the main port of entry in the country for everything from squash to peppers to cucumbers to citrus.

“Sonora is the only state significantly exporting oranges to the U.S…a future production and import increase would definitely have a small but positive economic impact on Arizona,” explains Gracia. “From customs and border patrol and USDA inspection jobs to warehousing, logistics and transportation. Any increase in imports from Mexico through Arizona borders brings a broad positive economic impact to the state.”

For now, Arizona can continue to reap the benefits of not only being able to produce a heavy amount of citrus on our own but also take on massive amounts of imports from Sonora, Florida, and California, which is in the middle of a 4.8 million-ton citrus export jump this year, according to the Department of Agriculture. What Arizona can be on the lookout for moving forward is how this will positively affect the economy in terms of trade and job growth.

Nick Esquer

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