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USDA proposes rule to allow avocado imports from all of Mexico

The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a new rule last week that would amend regulations “to allow the importation of fresh Hass avocado fruit into the continental United States, Hawaii and Puerto Rico from all of Mexico, provided individual Mexican states meet the requirements set out in the regulations and the operational workplan.

Posted Feb. 18 in the Federal Register, the proposal calls for an initial 60-day comment period, with the USDA accepting all comments received by April 20, 2015.

The proposed rule came as a result of a petition from Mexico’s national plant protection organization asking that the current regulation, which allow for shipments from the state of Michoacán under certain conditions, be expanded to all of Mexico. Within the proposed rule, USDA observed that the state of Jalisco would be the first state that would become eligible to export Hass avocados to the United States if this proposed rule becomes final.

Mexican avocados first gained entry to the U.S. market on a limited basis in 1997. The first rule allowed for the shipping of avocados from Michoacán into 19 northeastern states during the winter months.

Over the years that rule has been expanded to the point that Michoacán growers can now ship to all U.S. states throughout the year, providing they comply with Animal Plant Health & Inspection Service regulations, and groves and packagingsheds are certified to be compliant. Between 80 and 85 percent of Michoacán’s production currently qualifies.

This year, growers from that Mexican state are expected to ship about 1.4 billion pounds into the United States, representing about 70 percent of U.S. consumption.

Michoacan’s annual production of about 2.6 billion pounds represents about 80 percent of the country’s total avocado production of 3.2 billion pounds, according to Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the U.S.-based Hass Avocado Board. He said Jalisco has an annual production of about 190 million pounds, which is about 5 percent of the country’s total. Currently, Jalisco shippers sell their fruit domestically as well as to several export markets, including Canada and Asia.

If and when the proposed rule is finalized, Escobedo indicated that several growers and packingsheds in Jalisco might be able to qualify rather quickly. While most Michoacán acreage has been in the ground for several decades and is produced, on average, by smaller growers, he said Jalisco’s avocado groves have been planted more recently by larger growers and utilize a higher level of technology and sophistication.

For example, Escobedo said most of the Jalisco groves are irrigated, which is not the case in Michoacán.

He said growers from that state should be expected to send a high-quality piece of fruit into the United States given the chance. Jalisco’s production generally ranges from March to October, with the summer being its heavy shipping period.

Though it is possible that a final rule could be published this summer allowing for some 2015 shipments, the USDA typically is deliberate in its rule-making procedure, suggesting 2016 would be a more likely start date for the amended regulation and expanded point of avocado origin.