By Clint Thompson
One of Florida farmers’ most vocal advocates provided additional evidence on Monday of how Mexican imports of fresh fruit and vegetables are negatively impacting her state’s producers.
Florida Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried, outlined statistical data that shows the disparity of market shares between Mexico and Florida’s vegetable and specialty crop farmers.
“The findings continue to be shocking and demonstrate that Florida producers continue to suffer a disproportionate economic injury. Between 2000 and 2020, we saw a 580% increase of specialty crop imports from Mexico overall,” Fried said. “While Florida saw its bell pepper market share drop by nearly 75% between 2000 and 2020, Mexico gained by 95% during the same window. Florida tomatoes were down 52%, while Mexico’s were up 102%. Mexico’s strawberry and blueberry market share gains were even more dramatic; both increasing by 266% from 2000 to 2020, while Florida strawberries lost 30% and blueberries nearly 58%. The economic results of all of this? A $23.3 billion gap now exists between Mexican Ag exports and Florida’s total agricultural value.”
In a study done by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), two dozen Florida commodities were studied from 2000 to 2020. There were declines in market share for 20 commodities, while 13 Mexican commodities experienced market share increases more than 100%.
Florida growers are losing between 10% and 20% in sales every year, or $1.3 billion to $2.6 billion annually, which is directly attributed to Mexico’s export expansion over the past two decades. It amounts to a negative economic impact of $3.99 billion.
“With agriculture, Florida’s second largest industry, these unfair foreign trade practices and their devastating economic impact should be of greater concern to every single Floridian,” Fried said.
There are various reasons that Mexico’s imports have surged recently. The Mexican government subsidizes its fruit and vegetable industry. Protected agriculture is one of its subsidy programs. The government subsidizes 50% of the costs of protected structures like macro-tunnels, shade houses, anti-hail mesh and greenhouses. In 2019, growers could get 4 million pesos or $200,000 per project.
Approximately 95% of the protected acreage is for fruits and vegetables. Tomato is the largest crop in protected agriculture. Protected agriculture allows Mexican farmers to produce crops with higher yields, better quality, improved market access, higher prices, better pest control and reduced risk.
The disparity in wage rates is also striking. What Florida growers pay their workers in an hour, Mexico can pay in a day.
“Florida farmers are used to weathering challenges; from hurricanes to invasive species and are used to competition. But they need the federal government’s to level the playing field. We know that Mexico and others are not fighting fair,” Fried said.