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
California's "Citrus Belt" is on the east side of San Joaquin Valley, not far from the Sierra Nevada foothills. (Photo credit: David Eddy)
Citrus
May 3, 2016
New Program Targets Abandoned California Citrus Trees
Bayer and California Citrus Mutual have teamed up to help protect the state’s commercial citrus industry from deadly citrus greening. Read More
Extreme close-up of redbay ambrosia beetle
Fruits
May 3, 2016
How To Build A Better Beetle Trap
UF/IFAS study on luring, snaring the notorious redbay ambrosia beetle earns prestigious award. Read More
Shockwave, a long shelf-life cantaloupe with higher sugar content than most varieties is available from Holmes Seed Co. and Harris Seeds. Credit: Holmes Seed Co.
Cucurbits
May 3, 2016
New Cantaloupe, Pumpkin, And Squash Seeds Available
New varieties developed at the University of New Hampshire are the result of the longest continuous squash and pumpkin breeding program in North America. Read More
A herbicide screening trial in a non-bearing almond orchard treated in early January 2011.  The middle plot is a glyphosate-only program whereas the foreground and background plots had residual herbicides.  The photo was taken four months after the January treatments. (Photo credit UCANR)
Crop Protection
May 3, 2016
Almond Board To Hold Three Weed Management Workshops
The second in a series of free educational workshops aimed at the state’s almond growers will cover weed identification and Read More
fork digging into a plate full of salad
Food Safety
May 2, 2016
Department Of Justice To Investigate Dole Over Listeria Outbreak In Packaged Salads
Salad mix packaged at the company’s Ohio facility has been connected to four deaths. Read More
Florida Everglades swamp shot at sunset
Citrus
May 2, 2016
As Hurricane Season Nears, South Florida Going Dry
All basins around the region experience rainfall deficits during April as totals fall far below average. Read More
Harvesting Tips At Kuhn Orchards
Equipment
May 2, 2016
USDA Offers New Loans For Portable Farm Storage, Handling Equipment
Portable equipment can help producers, including small and local farmers, get products to market quickly. Read More
Contour Farming
Vegetables
May 2, 2016
The Importance Of Producing Crops On Well-Managed Cropland
Many farmland protection options and tools have been suggested and used in efforts to slow the rate of farmland losses around the country. Read More
Photo credit: USDA
Leafy Vegetables
May 2, 2016
Electronic Eye Detects Decay Inside Bagged Lettuce
Researchers develop a way to help select breeding lines that will yield cut lettuce with a longer shelflife. Read More
(Photo credit: USDA via Almond Board of California)
Nuts
May 2, 2016
California Almond Acreage Up 6%
The increase follows a trend in which acreage has doubled in the last 20 years. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
May 3, 2016
New Program Targets Abandoned California…
Bayer and California Citrus Mutual have teamed up to help protect the state’s commercial citrus industry from deadly citrus greening. Read More
Fruits
May 3, 2016
How To Build A Better Beetle Trap
UF/IFAS study on luring, snaring the notorious redbay ambrosia beetle earns prestigious award. Read More
Cucurbits
May 3, 2016
New Cantaloupe, Pumpkin, And Squash Seed…
New varieties developed at the University of New Hampshire are the result of the longest continuous squash and pumpkin breeding program in North America. Read More
Crop Protection
May 3, 2016
Almond Board To Hold Three Weed Manageme…
The second in a series of free educational workshops aimed at the state’s almond growers will cover weed identification and Read More
Food Safety
May 2, 2016
Department Of Justice To Investigate Dol…
Salad mix packaged at the company’s Ohio facility has been connected to four deaths. Read More
Citrus
May 2, 2016
As Hurricane Season Nears, South Florida…
All basins around the region experience rainfall deficits during April as totals fall far below average. Read More
Equipment
May 2, 2016
USDA Offers New Loans For Portable Farm …
Portable equipment can help producers, including small and local farmers, get products to market quickly. Read More
Vegetables
May 2, 2016
The Importance Of Producing Crops On Wel…
Many farmland protection options and tools have been suggested and used in efforts to slow the rate of farmland losses around the country. Read More
Leafy Vegetables
May 2, 2016
Electronic Eye Detects Decay Inside Bagg…
Researchers develop a way to help select breeding lines that will yield cut lettuce with a longer shelflife. Read More
Nuts
May 2, 2016
California Almond Acreage Up 6%
The increase follows a trend in which acreage has doubled in the last 20 years. Read More
Farm Management
May 2, 2016
USDA Unveils New Urban Agriculture Toolk…
For urban farmers and agribusiness entrepreneurs, the toolkit is an electronic document that helps users navigate more than 70 resources, including technical assistance and financing opportunities. Read More
Cucurbits
May 2, 2016
13 Of The Latest Cucumber Varieties
Check out this slideshow for more details on 13 cucumber varieties you need to know about from the nation’s leading seed breeders and Read More
Apples & Pears
May 1, 2016
USApple Debuts New Website
Industry group says new site is responsive to different formats, designed to be more consumer and industry friendly. Read More
Crop Protection
April 30, 2016
How To Elect The Right Fungicide For The…
Fungicide application is one tool of a successful IPM program for crop diseases. Used judiciously and appropriately, these chemicals are powerful allies in the fight against the fungi and bacteria that attack crops. Read More
GenNext Growers
April 30, 2016
Young Growers The Focus Of Industry Prog…
The next generation in the tree fruit industry getting support of leading industry organizations. Read More
Nuts
April 29, 2016
Look Out For Jacket Rot On Almond Leaves
Rains at bloom are causing higher than normal incidents of bacterial infections. Read More
Farm Marketing
April 29, 2016
Churchview Farm Aims To Close The Gap Be…
This year, from June through September, Churchview Farm, located just outside of Pittsburgh, will host four farm dinners a month, Read More
Farm Marketing
April 29, 2016
How Wholesale-Only Growers And Farm Mark…
We already know of some of the differences between farm marketers and wholesale-only farms. Farm marketers outnumber wholesale-only farms. Wholesale-only Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]