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
Photo Credit: David Eddy
Nuts
February 10, 2016
Incentives Available For Low-Emission Harvesters 
Almond and walnut growers who use lower-emission harvesting equipment may be eligible for financial incentives. Beginning this year, the USDA Read More
pile of potatoes
Potatoes
February 10, 2016
Potatoes Are More Than A Good Source Of Potassium
Researchers have been investigating the enhancement of oxidative qualities through breeding potato selections that are considerably higher in antioxidants than those currently available. Read More
Make sure your tank is free of cracks or fractures to avoid loss of product.
Photos credit: Fred Whitford, Purdue University
Equipment
February 10, 2016
Get Your Sprayer Ready For Spring
Cleaning equipment, checking for damages, and ensuring proper calibration should be standard procedure before the season begins. Read More
citrus greening symptoms on small trees
Insect & Disease Update
February 9, 2016
University Of Florida Research Receives Nearly $7 Million To Fight Citrus Greening
A big chunk of the federal funding will focus on growing the bacterium in a lab. Read More
young lady goofing around with orange slices for eyes
Citrus
February 9, 2016
Revised Forecast Yields Small Victory For Florida Oranges
Updated USDA estimate holds serve again; hasn’t dipped since December. Read More
AFG state of the industry
Apples & Pears
February 9, 2016
State Of The Fruit Industry 2016 [VIDEO]
According to an national poll of fruit growers, fruit industry suppliers, and researchers, the market is poised for growth in Read More
Dr. Surendra Dara
Crop Protection
February 9, 2016
Biopesticides And IPM
Dr. Surendra Dara, Strawberry and Vegetable Crops Advisor and Affiliated IPM Advisor with University of California Cooperative Extension, has long Read More
Greg Lang of Michigan State discusses cherry tree pruning at IFTA 2016.
Fruits
February 8, 2016
Precision Fruit Growing, Business Management Top Agenda At IFTA Conference Kickoff
American Fruit Grower magazine managing editor Christina Herrick posts her updates from the 59th annual gathering. Read More
U.S. Capitol Building FEATURE
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
Food Policy: If You Don’t Speak, Others Will Speak For You
British Columbia’s former Minister of Agriculture, Corky Evans, spoke with attendees at 2016 North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association’s Convention about Read More
Winery at Krause Berry Farm FEATURE
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
How British Columbia And U.S. Regs Are Shaping Farm Markets [Opinion]
Laws passed decades ago to protect small farms aren't keeping up with the realities of modern farmers and their marketing efforts. Restrictions can shut down hosting weddings, but offer incentives to open wineries. Read More
The Latest
Nuts
February 10, 2016
Incentives Available For Low-Emission Ha…
Almond and walnut growers who use lower-emission harvesting equipment may be eligible for financial incentives. Beginning this year, the USDA Read More
Potatoes
February 10, 2016
Potatoes Are More Than A Good Source Of …
Researchers have been investigating the enhancement of oxidative qualities through breeding potato selections that are considerably higher in antioxidants than those currently available. Read More
Equipment
February 10, 2016
Get Your Sprayer Ready For Spring
Cleaning equipment, checking for damages, and ensuring proper calibration should be standard procedure before the season begins. Read More
Insect & Disease Update
February 9, 2016
University Of Florida Research Receives …
A big chunk of the federal funding will focus on growing the bacterium in a lab. Read More
Citrus
February 9, 2016
Revised Forecast Yields Small Victory Fo…
Updated USDA estimate holds serve again; hasn’t dipped since December. Read More
Apples & Pears
February 9, 2016
State Of The Fruit Industry 2016 [VIDEO]
According to an national poll of fruit growers, fruit industry suppliers, and researchers, the market is poised for growth in Read More
Crop Protection
February 9, 2016
Biopesticides And IPM
Dr. Surendra Dara, Strawberry and Vegetable Crops Advisor and Affiliated IPM Advisor with University of California Cooperative Extension, has long Read More
Fruits
February 8, 2016
Precision Fruit Growing, Business Manage…
American Fruit Grower magazine managing editor Christina Herrick posts her updates from the 59th annual gathering. Read More
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
Food Policy: If You Don’t Speak, O…
British Columbia’s former Minister of Agriculture, Corky Evans, spoke with attendees at 2016 North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association’s Convention about Read More
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
How British Columbia And U.S. Regs Are S…
Laws passed decades ago to protect small farms aren't keeping up with the realities of modern farmers and their marketing efforts. Restrictions can shut down hosting weddings, but offer incentives to open wineries. Read More
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
3 Tips On How Not To Lose Your Shirt Whe…
Chef and consultant Chuck Currie told NAFDMA Convention attendees the basic principles of what makes a farm market eatery a success or a flop. Read More
Farm Marketing
February 8, 2016
10 Ideas You Can Steal From NAFDMA’…
We visited several farm markets, as well as poultry and cheese farms and garden shops, this past week. Here are just a few of the best ideas we spied. Read More
Crop Protection
February 8, 2016
7 Steps To See If Biocontrols Pencil Out…
Have you considered adding biocontrols to your operation? If you have, there’s no doubt you’ve already weighed the potential costs, Read More
Potatoes
February 7, 2016
A Lesson In Marketing From Sterman Masse…
Always looking for new product offerings and ways to expand, Sterman Masser Potato Farms caters to consumers. Read More
Vegetables
February 7, 2016
The Eastern Broccoli Project Moves Forwa…
As acreage increases in the East, mid-sized growers seek channels to distribute their product and continue the search for varieties. Read More
Fruits
February 6, 2016
Best Research Is Industry Driven [Opinio…
Like many of you, I’m not crazy about a lot of government programs. It’s not that their genesis isn’t noble; God Read More
Fruits
February 6, 2016
RosBREED: A National Effort To Improve T…
The project focuses on improving disease resistance and fruit quality through better genetics and breeding. Read More
Berries
February 5, 2016
Moving Beyond Methyl Bromide With Biofun…
Editor’s note: University of California Farm Advisor Mark Bolda will present much more information on this topic at the Biocontrols Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]