Challenges test Florida growers

11/07/2013 12:07:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

For related coverage, see Urban encroachment, communication challenges test growers 

BALM, Fla. — Florida’s produce industry remains at a crossroads.

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

 Florida Ag ExpoDoug OhlemeierReggie Brown (from left), executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, talks with Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., and Paul Orsenigo, owner of Orsenigo Farms Inc. and Growers Management, during the Florida Ag Expo on Nov. 6. The outlook for the state’s tomato industry was one of the event’s key topics. During the Nov. 6 Florida Ag Expo, 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 there’s in housing for the next 50,” said 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 said he remains optimistic about Florida agriculture and said 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 said 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.

Florida Ag Expo“The state of the tomatoes industry as we see it today is in our trade struggle with Mexico,” Brown said. “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 predicted.

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, said 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 said, financial pressures continue.

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

In its eighth year, the event at the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences’ Gulf Coast Research and Education Center attracted more than 500 participants, similar to previous years.

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