Turkish lemons have been added to a European Union list of products considered to be a risk due to the presence of pesticide residues. The move means that imports will be subject to special and increased controls, including laboratory analysis.
A press release from Spanish interprofessional Ailimpo said last year 10 batches of lemons arriving from Turkey were found to contain elevated levels of biphenyl residues. Analysis confirmed levels as high as 8.56 mg per kg, despite the MRL set by EU legislation for this substance at the detection limit of 0.01 mg per kg.
The EU said increased controls are advisable in light of “successive reports from the EU Food and Veterinary Office in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013 repeatedly confirming the deficiencies of the official Turkish control system on the marketing and use of phytosanitary products, many of which are banned in the EU, coupled with the very low official sampling of batches exported and the limited number of suitably accredited laboratories”.
The news comes as the European lemon market faces mounting pressure from a flood of arrivals from Argentina and a bumper Spanish 2016/17 harvest. Argentine Eureka lemons are currently selling for €0.85-€1.2 per kg, and prices could fall even lower in the coming weeks.
“There is still a high volume of fruit that needs to be sold urgently,” Tomás Amer of Spanish exporter Agri-Naturelle told Fruitnet. “We’re talking about a lemon that has been travelling for 20-25 days and will not last much longer in optimum condition.”
The situation will be compounded when Spanish volumes ramp up in the coming month. Spanish production of Primofiori is already underway although volumes are still light, but supplies are expected to increase considerably over the next two to three weeks.
Initial forecasts from Ailimpo suggest that output in the 2016/17 season will hit 980,000 tonnes, a 22 per cent increase on 2015/16 which closed in August at 802,680 tonnes.
Fermín Sánchez of Gruventa has warned that it will be vital to regulate supply this season in light of the bigger crop. He welcomed the controls imposed on Turkish lemons, noting that they would help to regulate volumes on the European market and would prevent the entry of pests and diseases.
He acknowledged that the market is under considerable pressure and would be challenging for Spanish producers.
“Even though the quality of the [Spanish] crop is extraordinary, we can’t hope to achieve the record returns of last season,” he told Fruitnet. “Nevertheless, with the right balance between supply and demand the market could be very dynamic.”
Amer said he remained optimistic about the prospects for the new season. “We will start harvesting the first Primofiori in the next week or so. At this stage we expect prices to be more or less in line last season [when the shortage led to higher prices and exceptional returns for growers], but we’ll have to wait another 15-20 days to get a clearer idea,” he said.
Sánchez called on the Spanish industry to carry out an international marketing campaign, claiming it was a "priority" in light of the bumper harvest.