As president of the largest Mexican tomato grower association, I feel the need to respond to the misleading comments about the Tomato Suspension Agreement made by Michael Schadler of the Florida Tomato Exchange in the March 14 article titled “Why It’s Time to Dump Tomato Suspension Agreement” published on GrowingProduce.com.
Let’s start with the facts. There has never been a final finding that Mexican tomatoes are dumped or are injuring Florida. Mexico’s greenhouse grown tomatoes actually sell at higher prices than Florida’s gas greens. There has never been a finding of a violation on the record of the suspension agreement. The only suspension agreement proposal advanced by the Florida Tomato Exchange would violate U.S. law, while Mexican growers have made five different proposals over the last year to strengthen enforcement.
Mr. Schadler masks the real problems facing Florida, as outlined in a 2017 University of Florida study. These include hurricanes and freezes; poor soils; pest and disease pressure; labor shortages; and development and urban sprawl encroaching on farm land.
There’s another important obstacle for Florida growers: American consumers prefer Mexico’s greenhouse-grown tomatoes. Mexican growers have invested heavily in greenhouses and new technologies, while Florida still grows their tomatoes in open fields and injects them with ethylene gas to ripen. Those tomatoes are hard and virtually tasteless, and so have lost the battle at retail, where consumer tastes drive sales. Greenhouse tomatoes are a safer production environment, where cleaner and less fumigated produce is harvested with higher yields in a more sustainable method. Florida has failed to invest in greenhouses or in better technologies.
Mr. Schadler himself underscored this dichotomy just last week at a hearing before the International Trade Commission. Asked whether Florid Tomato Exchange had recently done consumer studies, Mr. Schadler replied: “the short answer to that question is, no, we have not done such research.” He went on to say that “Consumers shop with their eyes and consumers oftentimes don’t even know what they’re buying.”
If the Florida Tomato Exchange would do just a little research, it would realize that consumers know exactly what they are buying.