Not everyone believes there is a problem with Mexican imports and their impact on the domestic industry. In fact, Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of Americas, believes “Mexico cannot be blamed” for many of the issues Southeast farmers are trying to overcome.
“In reality, many of the problems facing the Southeast growers – labor, hurricanes, real estate development, consumer demand – have nothing to do with Mexican imports but everything to do with the growers’ inability or unwillingness to supply that market as demanded,” Jungmeyer said.
Labor rates play a significant role in comparing the Florida vs. Mexico. It was established during Thursday’s ITC hearing regarding the impact imports have on the Southeast domestic market, that Mexico’s minimum wage is $10 per day. Florida just voted to increase its minimum wage that will increase to $15 per hour over the next few years.
Jungmeyer was also critical of Florida and Georgia’s usage of the H-2A program and believes their lack of available workers has led to quality issues.
“Mexico cannot be blamed for U.S. farmers not having labor, agricultural workers, to work in their fields. Perishable products such as cucumbers and squash are labor intensive crops, particularly for the harvesting and packing. Without adequate labor, Southeast growers are at a severe disadvantage in how they grow and pack. Their products result in a distinct quality disadvantage that U.S. retail customers clearly recognize,” Jungmeyer said.
Industry leaders in Florida and Georgia insist, though, there is not a labor shortage.
Jungmeyer’s defense of Mexican imports also centered on hurricanes that are an annual threat to Florida production.
“Mexico cannot be blamed for the hurricanes and tropical storms that cause damage to crops. The threat of bad weather is reason alone why many retail customers seek Mexican suppliers to at least backstop the risk of Florida suppliers running into weather-related supply problems. This happens in Georgia as well. The risk of hurricanes is also a significant disincentive for southeast growers to pursue using protected agriculture to grow cucumbers and squash,” Jungmeyer said.
He also mentioned real estate development for a reason that many Florida producers have sold land instead of continuing the family business.
Consumer preference was his final point of defense. Jungmeyer claims consumers just prefer Mexican produce compared to American producers.
“Consumer choices have evolved to favor premium produce items like fancy squashes and cucumbers. This is in a way similar to how consumers choose bell peppers that are grown in protected agriculture because of the variety and color of peppers available and even the perfect appearance of those green protected agriculture peppers. We also have a perfect appearance in Mexican squash and cucumbers,” Jungmeyer said. “The extreme high quality in imported Mexican produce (distributors) sell gives them a significant demand edge in the market.”