U.S. Tomato Growers On The Outside Looking In

The U.S. vegetable industry has gone through many trials over the last 30 years. International trade was one of the first issues I was pressed about when I started at the University of Florida. Mexico and Florida had gone through several rounds in a trade dispute over marketing fresh produce in the winter market. There was a reprieve in that battle when the U.S. Department of Commerce negotiated a suspension agreement with Mexican growers who agreed not to sell fresh market tomatoes in the U.S. below a fixed minimum price.

The attention in trade then went to Canada and the growth in the greenhouse vegetable trade. Greenhouse growers in the U.S. contended that Canadian and Mexican greenhouse tomato growers were selling their tomatoes at below fair market value. That case was dismissed by the U.S. International Trade Commission on the basis that the market share for imported greenhouse tomatoes in the U.S. fresh tomato market was too small to have a significant impact on U.S. growers of fresh market tomatoes. The logic assumed that all fresh market tomatoes competed in the same market whether they were grown in greenhouses or in open-field cultivation. Since that ruling on greenhouse grown tomatoes, we have seen a meteoric rise in imports of greenhouse grown tomatoes from Mexico and Canada.

Change In Latitudes

Thirty years ago, the greenhouse tomatoes we saw in the market generally came from Europe. In terms of tomato imports, they represented only 13% of all tomato imports in calendar year 2000, with more than half of those imported greenhouse tomatoes coming from Canada (51.5%). They are now the dominant type of tomato imported from Canada (95% of all Canadian imports are greenhouse tomatoes) and a large share of the imports from Mexico (39.2% of all Mexican tomato imports now being greenhouse grown).
 
In calendar year 2011, greenhouse tomatoes represented 44.7% of all imports. Several factors play a role in this change. First, greenhouse tomatoes fall outside of the control of the suspension agreement with Mexico and they are not restricted in their exports to the U.S. as a result of that suspension agreement. Second, quality has taken on greater roles in the U.S. produce market and, right or wrong, greenhouse vegetables are generally viewed as being of better quality. Third, food safety has been a growing crisis within fresh produce and it is easier to control production and food safety in a greenhouse environment. Buyers recognize that advantage and have given more shelf space to greenhouse grown produce in retail markets.

Competing Under Cover

Mexico and Canada have seized the opportunity to fill the demand for greenhouse-grown vegetables. We have seen some growth in U.S. production of greenhouse vegetables, but not nearly to the degree that Canada and Mexico have grown. USDA reports that greenhouse tomatoes represented 29.6% of all fresh market tomato shipments in 2010. They represent 38% of all imports in 2010.

I have written several times about the decline in demand for fresh market vegetables. Our growers not only suffer from a weakening demand for their product, but also greater competition from imports that are increasingly greenhouse grown. U.S. growers are making a transition to greenhouse production, but that transition has been slow and has given foreign suppliers a chance to take market share. U.S. growers are going to need to find better ways to compete in this market. They are going to need to examine the products they grow in open field cultivation, or they are going to have to transition even faster to greenhouse production. They cannot rest on their past success and hope to have a solid future.

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
A Concord model grape vineyard with a two-tier cordon system. (Photo credit: Tom Zabadel)
Grapes
August 26, 2016
Model Vineyard Looks To Maximize Concord Production
Watching Michigan ‘‘Concord’’ grape growers struggle with stagnant and sometimes declining prices, a team of researchers at Michigan State University Read More
Organic potato grower staring at his crops
Crop Protection
August 25, 2016
Better Biocontrol Options Becoming Available To Organic Growers
New bio-based solutions to effectively control weeds and pests are cropping up. Read More
Marty McKenna and Mark Wheeler grab a photo together at the Florida Citrus Industry Annual Conference
Citrus Achievement Award
August 25, 2016
Working Together For A Common Cause Key To Citrus Success
Cirus Achievement Award winner Marty McKenna says the industry is sustained by strength in numbers. Read More
New citrus grove in Florida
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Florida Citrus Granted New Incentive To Grow On
A state-backed $5.5 million grove renovation/re-establishment program is now available and accepting applications. Read More
Judi Whitson, 2016 Florida Woman of the Year in Agriculture
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Meet Florida’s 2016 Woman Of The Year In Agriculture
Dedication to fostering the state’s farming future defines the latest winner of longtime honor. Read More
University of New Hampshire scientists constructed a linkage map of the seven chromosomes of the diploid Fragaria iinumae, which allows them to fill in a piece of the genetic puzzle about the eight sets of chromosomes of the cultivated strawberry.
Berries
August 24, 2016
Researchers Unravel Genetic Ancestry Of Cultivated Strawberry
A genetic analysis conducted by New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station researchers aims to improve modern cultivation efforts of strawberry growers. Read More
Justin Clements, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Center working in the Department of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the recipient of NPC's 2016-2017 Academic Scholarship.
Potatoes
August 24, 2016
Fifth-Year Doctoral Student Receives NPC’s Scholarship For Potato Research
The National Potato Council (NPC) has announced that Justin Clements, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Read More
2011 WA IFTA Tour
Fruits
August 24, 2016
Don’t Underestimate The Value Of Production Bus Tours For Your Business [Opinion]
Sure, you can see and talk with virtually anyone in the world through your smart phone, but you can’t shake their hand. Read More
Crowd protesting GMOs stock image FEATURE
Farm Management
August 24, 2016
Swaying Views On GMO Foods No Easy Task
Featured speaker for the upcoming FFVA Annual Convention says tides are slowly turning in how people digest the concept of genetic modification. Read More
A subsurface microirrigation system.
(Photo credit: Peter Jacoby)
Grapes
August 23, 2016
Deeper Irrigation Method Showing Promise For Vineyards
A new subsurface irrigation system is showing promise for slashing water usage in vineyards. Many vineyards use drip lines that Read More
The Latest
Grapes
August 26, 2016
Model Vineyard Looks To Maximize Concord…
Watching Michigan ‘‘Concord’’ grape growers struggle with stagnant and sometimes declining prices, a team of researchers at Michigan State University Read More
Crop Protection
August 25, 2016
Better Biocontrol Options Becoming Avail…
New bio-based solutions to effectively control weeds and pests are cropping up. Read More
Citrus Achievement Award
August 25, 2016
Working Together For A Common Cause Key …
Cirus Achievement Award winner Marty McKenna says the industry is sustained by strength in numbers. Read More
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Florida Citrus Granted New Incentive To …
A state-backed $5.5 million grove renovation/re-establishment program is now available and accepting applications. Read More
Citrus
August 24, 2016
Meet Florida’s 2016 Woman Of The Year In…
Dedication to fostering the state’s farming future defines the latest winner of longtime honor. Read More
Berries
August 24, 2016
Researchers Unravel Genetic Ancestry Of …
A genetic analysis conducted by New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station researchers aims to improve modern cultivation efforts of strawberry growers. Read More
Potatoes
August 24, 2016
Fifth-Year Doctoral Student Receives NPC…
The National Potato Council (NPC) has announced that Justin Clements, a fifth-year doctoral student in the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Read More
Fruits
August 24, 2016
Don’t Underestimate The Value Of P…
Sure, you can see and talk with virtually anyone in the world through your smart phone, but you can’t shake their hand. Read More
Farm Management
August 24, 2016
Swaying Views On GMO Foods No Easy Task
Featured speaker for the upcoming FFVA Annual Convention says tides are slowly turning in how people digest the concept of genetic modification. Read More
Grapes
August 23, 2016
Deeper Irrigation Method Showing Promise…
A new subsurface irrigation system is showing promise for slashing water usage in vineyards. Many vineyards use drip lines that Read More
Disease Control
August 23, 2016
Florida Sweet Corn Has New Deadly Stalke…
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this disease. Read More
Fruits
August 23, 2016
New Insecticides Geared To Give Growers …
Check out three unique chemistries from several of the industry's leading crop protection suppliers. Read More
Apple Grower of the Year
August 22, 2016
Apple Crop Forecasts Live On Twitter
You'll be able to get up-to-the-minute reports of not only the various regions of the U.S., but key production regions around the world. Read More
Oranges
August 22, 2016
Major OJ Purchase Promises Relief For Fl…
$30 million planned acquisition from USDA to be used for surplus removal. Read More
Varieties & Rootstocks
August 22, 2016
Florida Citrus Breeders Squeezed For Tim…
The pressure is on to develop a more HLB-tolerant orange. Read More
Pest Control
August 21, 2016
Spotted Wing Drosophila: For Michigan, …
Why the pest can be so much more destructive for Eastern cherry growers might be due to what they’re not farming. Read More
Grapes
August 19, 2016
European Grapevine Moth Eradicated From …
Agricultural officials confirm eradication of invasive pest, lift quarantine restrictions. Read More
Fruits
August 19, 2016
Parts Of New York Now In Extreme Drought
Water deficits starting to cause concern for fire, water shortages in the Empire State. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]