A Mexican industry official, meanwhile, says the tomato industry loses if any grower goes out of business, north or south of the border.
Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead, Fla.-based DiMare Co., one of Florida’s largest shippers, said the U.S. government is not doing a good enough job cracking down on illegally low-priced Mexican tomatoes and on shipments that are not meant for export but come to the U.S. anyway.
Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Exchange, said there has been “some circumvention” in past years of a suspension agreement between the U.S. and Mexico that sets a price minimum, and he fears there could be more this season.
As a result, DiMare said, Florida tomato growers are struggling to weather an ever-increasing flood of Mexican product that is keeping prices below production costs for months at a time.
With rising production costs, the break-even price for Florida growers is $9 or $10 per box, DiMare said. Growers no longer enjoy the strong markets that make up for the weak ones, he said.
“It’s at risk, there’s no question about it,” DiMare said. “We cannot continue to sustain these kinds of losses. It will eventually knock us out of the winter deal, and maybe eventually out of the entire deal.”
That would hurt everyone, not just Florida, said Eric Viramontes, chief executive officer of the Mexican Association for Protected Horticulture, Culiacan.
“I can understand (DiMare’s) worries,” Viramontes said. “We don’t want the industry to disappear in any area. We’re all on the same ship.”
That said, Viramontes asserts that all of the growers under his organization’s umbrella are complying with the suspension agreement, though AMHPAC would welcome a greater role in the enforcement of it. That authority, he said, would have to come from the U.S. government.
“It’s in our best interest that tomatoes not be dumped,” Viramontes said.
AMHPAC does not, however, support changing the agreement to limit volumes, a change which DiMare said could be necessary to buoy markets.
“I see (DiMare’s) point of view, but that would be opening a very dangerous door,” Viramontes said. “You always have to think of the butterfly effect. You may regret it later.”