Georgia Vegetable Farmer: Blueberry Verdict Took Wind out of my Sails

Clint Thompson Exports/Imports, Georgia, Top Posts

Farmers of squash and cucumbers will have their say with the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in two weeks. But don’t count Georgia farmer Jason Tyrone as one who is optimistic about farmers’ chances of convincing the USITC that imports are inflicting serious injury on the domestic crop.

He just points to the USITC verdict regarding blueberries.

“I hope I’m wrong, but the way the blueberry thing went, it took all the wind out of my sails,” Tyrone said. “Honestly, I think blueberry guys in South Georgia have as big of a gripe as anybody. I think they’re hurting them worse than anybody, from what I hear. If they didn’t stand a chance, I don’t see where we do. Even though we are being greatly impacted, it’s not any worse than what’s happening to the blueberry guys.”

Tycor Farms

Tyrone farms with Brian Corbett at Tycor Farms in Lake Park, Georgia. They produce squash, cucumbers, bell peppers, hot peppers, cabbage, egg plant and green beans.

USITC Investigations

The USITC is investigating both cucumbers and squash with a focus on the U.S. Southeast. According to the USITC, it is examining the effect of imports on the domestic seasonal markets of both commodities in separate but concurrent investigations and will produce two separate reports. The reports will provide, to the extent practical:

  • descriptions of the effects of imports on the domestic seasonal markets of the products in question, with particular focus on production and the competitiveness of cucumbers and squash grown in the Southeastern United States;
  • information on recent trends in trade in these products between the United States and its trading partners, including information on seasonal patterns of trade; and
  • descriptions of monthly price trends for these products in the United States, including an analysis and comparison of the prices of domestically produced and imported products in the U.S. market, with a focus on the 2015-2020 time period. 

The USITC will host a public hearing in connection with the investigations on April 8, beginning at 9:30 a.m.

“(Imports) does impact us. I won’t say that it impact us as heavy; obviously, the south Florida window that’s in right now, they’re in more direct competition,” Tyrone said. “Mexico definitely impacts us on squash and cucumbers. That’s what hits me the hardest; pepper as well, which is probably our main commodity is bell pepper. They do impact us on that, but I would say they are capable of crushing the squash and cucumber markets pretty easily.”

Increasingly More Problematic

What’s especially problematic is how imports have skyrocketed in recent years. According to Zhengfei Guan, University of Florida Associate Professor, Florida production of bell peppers doubled what was imported from Mexico in 2000. But in 2019, Mexican imports totaled more than a billion pounds, compared to Florida which totaled a little more than 300 million.

“It’s escalating. As long as I’ve been in the industry, it’s been affecting south Florida. They just would catch us on the tail end of a season because we don’t overlap quite as much. I haven’t been to Mexico and haven’t, with my own eyes, seen what’s going on but what I hear, I think they’re adapting to grow outside the windows they used to be in by changes in elevation; by using shade cloths during the hot times,” Tyrone said. “I think they’re overlapping with us more and more and with more commodities.

“Pepper used to never be a problem for us with Mexico, and now it is.”