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

LaborIndustry Organizations Sound Off On President’s Immigration Plan
November 24, 2014
Organizations seeking comprehensive policy to solve agriculture labor issues. Read More
Farm ManagementIndustry Organizations Sound Off On President’s Immigration Plan
November 21, 2014
Agriculture is not given the attention it so sorely deserves when it comes to the immigration debate. Read More
Insect ControlDon’t Turn Your Back On Striped Blister Beetles
November 21, 2014
Learn how to ID, the survival and spread, as well as management methods of this vegetable pest. Read More
CitrusRamped-Up Predatory Mite Production To Benefit Growers
November 21, 2014
Biologics company Beneficial Insectary now rearing two species in its California facility. Read More
NutsArizona Pistachio And Pecan Growers Benefiting From High Prices
November 21, 2014
Pecan production alone is expected to double in the next 10 years. Read More
Apples & PearsOn The Road With The International Fruit Tree Association Study Tour To Italy Part 2 [Slideshow]
November 21, 2014
Attention to detail is evident in the production of high quality feathered apple trees at GRIBA’s nursery. Read More
Fruits2014 California Winegrape Harvest: Outstanding
November 21, 2014
It’s the earliest crop of the decade, but still a third in a string of great vintages. Read More
FruitsFetzer Vineyards Pioneers Zero Waste
November 21, 2014
Company achieves top sustainability certification by diverting 98% of its waste from the landfill. Read More
VegetablesFormer Harris Seeds Co. CEO, Per Jensen, Passes At 85
November 21, 2014
A passion for plants defined longtime industry influencer. Read More
GrapesPerfect Storm Hurts New York Concord Grape Growers
November 21, 2014
More than 10,000 tons of juice grapes are abandoned because of too much production and no market. Read More

The Latest

LaborIndustry Organizations Sound Off On President’s Immig…
November 24, 2014
Organizations seeking comprehensive policy to solve agriculture labor issues. Read More
Farm ManagementIndustry Organizations Sound Off On President’s Immig…
November 21, 2014
Agriculture is not given the attention it so sorely deserves when it comes to the immigration debate. Read More
Insect ControlDon’t Turn Your Back On Striped Blister Beetles
November 21, 2014
Learn how to ID, the survival and spread, as well as management methods of this vegetable pest. Read More
CitrusRamped-Up Predatory Mite Production To Benefit Growers
November 21, 2014
Biologics company Beneficial Insectary now rearing two species in its California facility. Read More
NutsArizona Pistachio And Pecan Growers Benefiting From Hig…
November 21, 2014
Pecan production alone is expected to double in the next 10 years. Read More
Apples & PearsOn The Road With The International Fruit Tree Associati…
November 21, 2014
Attention to detail is evident in the production of high quality feathered apple trees at GRIBA’s nursery. Read More
Fruits2014 California Winegrape Harvest: Outstanding
November 21, 2014
It’s the earliest crop of the decade, but still a third in a string of great vintages. Read More
FruitsFetzer Vineyards Pioneers Zero Waste
November 21, 2014
Company achieves top sustainability certification by diverting 98% of its waste from the landfill. Read More
VegetablesFormer Harris Seeds Co. CEO, Per Jensen, Passes At 85
November 21, 2014
A passion for plants defined longtime industry influencer. Read More
GrapesPerfect Storm Hurts New York Concord Grape Growers
November 21, 2014
More than 10,000 tons of juice grapes are abandoned because of too much production and no market. Read More
FruitsClassic Turkey Day Dinner Costing Consumers More This Y…
November 20, 2014
Despite increase, a family of 10 can still get stuffed for less than $50. Read More
Insect ControlFlorida Vegetable Growers Gain Access To New Nematicide
November 20, 2014
Methyl bromide alternative Nimitz approved for use on tomatoes, peppers, okra, eggplant, cucumber, watermelon, cantaloupe, and squash. Read More
EquipmentHighlights From EIMA International In Italy [Slideshow]
November 19, 2014
The 2014 edition of the International Agricultural and Gardening Machinery Exhibition (EIMA) boasted a record number of attendees from 124 countries. Read More
Farm ManagementVegetableGrowerConnect Delivers Results For Growers And…
November 19, 2014
Suppliers and growers got down to business in San Diego discussing current needs, solutions, and ways to increase efficiencies on the farm. Browse this slideshow for VegetableGrowerConnect highlights. Read More
FruitsFixing Farm Labor Woes Worth The Extra Effort [Opinion]
November 19, 2014
40th annual Ag Labor Relations Forum encourages outreach and action. Read More
BerriesPackaging Company’s Campaign To Benefit Future Organi…
November 19, 2014
Sambrailo Packaging of Watsonville, CA, has partnered with California Certified Organic Farmers and will donate a portion of the sales of clamshells made from plastic bottles. Read More
Apples & PearsOn The Road With The International Fruit Tree Associati…
November 19, 2014
Win Cowgill of Rutgers University details a trip through the one of the most concentrated fruit growing areas in the world, the South Tyrol region of Italy. Read More
IrrigationAlmond Grower Honored For Water Efficiency
November 18, 2014
Ongoing drought highlights the efforts of third-generation Madera County grower Tom Rogers. Read More