Challenges test state’s growers

12/11/2013 05:00:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

click image to zoomThe state’s tomato industry continues to face market competition from Mexico and other off-shore producers as well as competition for land from developers.





Florida’s produce industry remains at a crossroads. 

Competition from other growing regions and increasing construction are among the many challenges pressuring Florida’s growershippers.

During the recent Florida Ag Expo in Balm, growers discussed current obstacles and peered into the future.

“I think there’s more value in maintaining farmland now for the next 20 years than theirs in housing for the next 50,” says Jamie Williams, director of Florida operations for Immokalee-based Lipman.

“... The challenges that face us are huge. There’s a lot of offshore production where labor’s cheap and it costs a lot of money to work produce in this country.”

Despite that, Williams says he remains optimistic about Florida agriculture and says difficulties are what drive the business and make growers successful.

In a seminar on the Florida tomato market and trade dynamics, Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Exchange, presented an overview of the U.S.-Mexican tomato suspension agreement.

He says he expects the case Florida growers filed with the Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission requesting withdrawal from a 1996 anti-dumping duty petition to grind its way through the courts during the next year.

“The state of the tomatoes industry as we see it today is in our trade struggle with Mexico,” Brown says. “We are very unique, and the U.S. tomato industry is well organized. We can rally the troops to get people to do things and make things happen.”

Other commodities, also facing rising competition with Mexican imports “will need this kind of effort in the future,” Brown says.

As the most recent changes to the suspension agreement didn’t occur until toward the end of the past tomato shipping season, Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, says there hasn’t been enough time to evaluate the agreement’s effect on the season because it was still being phased in as the season neared an end.

But DiMare says financial pressures continue.

“With a number of grower-shippers going out of business, the tomato industry is at a crossroads,” he says. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in the industry as to the future.”

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