By Clint Thompson
Georgia vegetable farmer Bill Brim exudes passion when talking about agriculture. It’s all he’s known for more than 50 years. Brim directed passion and zeal toward the U.S. International Trade Commission during its hearing on cucumbers and squash in April.
“I am here because I believe in Georgia farmers. I believe our industry is worth fighting for,” Brim said. “Please do the right thing and help us preserve this way of life that means so much to me.”
What prompted this South Georgia produce farmer almost to tears? It’s the toll that imports are having on farmers like himself and that have prompted some to consider early retirement.
Lewis Taylor Farms employs 75 full-time employees and 450 H-2A workers. As Bill Brim, president, said, “Our success is in their livelihood.”
Unfortunately, success is hard to come by these days for Brim, a producer with 5,500 acres of strawberries, cantaloupes, watermelons and other vegetables. Brim’s testimony during the April hearing that focused on imports’ impact on the domestic industry of cucumbers and squash was simple:
“We are a family-owned and family-oriented business that takes care of each other. Despite our 71-year history and despite the support of our dedicated employees, our future is in serious jeopardy,” Brim said. “Quickly rising imports, primarily from Mexico, are on the verge of putting us out of business.”
What are the Concerns?
Brim’s concerns center on Mexico dumping produce during the peak harvest season. It’s a similar complaint voiced by other farmers. Large quantities of produce are imported into the country at no set price. The buyer sets the price for what they’re willing to pay after it arrives. Mexico is willing to sell for whatever it can get because it is backed by government subsidies.
Producers like Brim can’t compete, not with the high labor wages, input costs and freight costs they’re already responsible for. Marketing opportunities with mid-west retailors have all but disappeared. Why pay more when they can get cheap imports?
He added that U.S. Antidumping and Countervailing laws exist for circumstances like these. But he noted that Southeast producers must rally support from farmers in the rest of the country. However, they’re not feeling the same impact and their sales are not as affected, especially compared to those in Florida and Georgia.
“Mexican imports are underselling Southeastern producers, and in particular, it is Southeast producers who are getting hurt,” Brim said.
The pain lingers but so does Brim’s love for agriculture.