Does shelf-life hinder organic lemon exports from Argentina to the US?

From Fresh Plaza | 12 July 2023

Overview of organic lemons from Argentina in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on July 7, 2023. 

The organic lemon season out of Mexico is off to a good start. “We’re just beginning to ramp up and are now shipping about 20 to 30 loads per month,” says Gene Loudon with Dovex. The company sources most of its organic lemons in Mexico. “The big months are August through November and during that time frame, we hope to ship 60 loads per month into the US from our grower partner Four Aces.” The company is located near Ciudad Victoria and has been growing organic lemons for many years. According to Loudon, Four Aces is one of the largest organic growers of lemons in Mexico.

Lowest prices ever in 2022

Between 2015 and 2021, the organic lemon market was very good. “However, things started to become tough last year,” Loudon commented. The US market opening up for lemons from Argentina has had a negative effect on prices of organic lemons. “In the past, prices were always strongest in summer, and they would go down when California hit the market in the fall. However, that pattern has been in flux,” said Loudon.

Summer pricing has come down due to import competition from Argentina. In 2018, lemon prices were as high as $100/box in summer, but last summer, they were between mid $20s and low $30s. “They were as low as I’ve ever seen,” Loudon shared. In general, the organic lemon volume has increased significantly in the past five years, which has put a downward pressure on pricing.

lemon prices by history

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Lower volume from Argentina

While prices were depressingly low last year, the situation is looking better this year. “We are just not seeing the number of containers with organic lemons from Argentina coming in compared to last year,” Loudon commented. He thinks it may have to do with the long transit time in combination with a shorter shelf-life for organic. “Shelf-life of organic lemons is significantly hampered compared to conventional ones. We can’t even use fungicides on the product and with a container being on the water for 20 to 30 days, quality of arrivals is impacted.”

lemon volumes by history 1

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

As a result of lower volumes coming in from Argentina, prices are stronger so far this season. “Currently, they are in the $35 – $45 range per box and I believe they will further strengthen.” What also drives a stronger market is diminished organic lemon volume from California. Usually, the state will command control of the market from the end of October until March and production tails off by May. “This year has been strange due to inclement weather. Harvest started later and while California is still in the market right now, the volumes just aren’t there.”

Speaking of inclement weather, Loudon shares how changing weather patterns have become of bigger concern. Flooding in California this winter, a drought in Argentina and last week, Chile was hit with excessive rainfall and flooding. “The industry has been in flux and production volumes are increasingly unpredictable.”

Dovex will be exhibiting at the Organic Produce Summit in Monterey on Thursday, July 13. Visit the team at booth #317.

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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