Reflecting on the 2019 Florida blueberry season, like most seasons, there were highs and lows.
A notable win for our industry this year was inclusion in the recently signed disaster relief funds. These funds retroactively apply to our blueberry growers affected by Hurricane Irma. Growers will finally be able to apply for the much-needed relief after suffering losses from the devastating storm.
This was a record- breaking season. Record amounts of Mexican fruit crossed our U.S. border during the Florida season, and prices hit record lows during our production peak in April.
While many in the agriculture community consider the new United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA) an improvement, there are no improvements for seasonal fruits and vegetables. And like its NAFTA predecessor, we, the Florida blueberry grower, remain vulnerable and unprotected.
Blueberries in the Southeast have experienced normal growth and stability over the last decade, but recent and massive plantings in Mexico threaten the livelihood of domestic blueberry producers.
The unprecedented amounts of Mexican fruit in the U.S. during March, April, and May are absolutely crippling the Southeast domestic blueberry industry — the Florida blueberry industry.
We have suffered under the current NAFTA and will continue to suffer under the new USMCA.
Since 2010, more than 25 times the amount of fruit is now directly competing with our Florida crop in a three-month period.
While our growing costs domestically have increased because of regulations and other factors, Mexican growers benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars of government subsidies each year.
Our harvest expenses have nearly doubled in some areas, due to the unreasonably high cost of H-2A labor. Our Mexican counterparts, however, benefit from extremely low labor costs, paying harvesters for one day less than what we pay for an hour.
The Florida Blueberry Growers Association has been steadfast in working alongside other commodity and industry groups to continue to advocate for our industry for trade remedies. The Florida delegation in Congress has long been advocating for reasonable provisions to protect specialty crops.
We remain hopeful that a solution for the blueberry industry and other specialty crops is on the horizon.
Our message is that our growers only want an even playing field. They want an opportunity to continue their family operations and to be in production agriculture, providing a safe and healthy food source for our consumers.
We are not against free trade. We are for fair trade.