Executive Director's Letter: Washington Failing to Help Florida Blueberry Farmers

Like most of you, my blueberry farm is family-owned. Our Florida industry is made up of more than 900 blueberry farms across the state, and collectively we employ 2,500 workers and generate an annual economic impact of $295 million. But this year, we face a challenge to our livelihoods. We’re being pounded by a flood of low-priced blueberry imports from Mexico, Peru and other countries. 

Florida is the first location in the U.S. to harvest blueberries every year. Some of you started harvesting earlier this month and we will continue harvesting in Florida until the end of May. The story has been well reported by now, and you know how the massive increase in Mexican imports during our harvesting season has affected your farms. It is crippling the Florida blueberry industry. 

Over the period from 2009 to 2019, we saw imports from Mexico increase by 2,111 percent.

The impact of these imports is falling prices and a loss of market share, which is a major and direct hit for our Florida family farms. In 2016, we saw prices in the first week in April (Week 15) that were as high as $8.23 per pound. But last year, in 2020, the week 15 price was less than half of that – only $3.45 per pound.  

Mexico blueberry growers are targeting our critical harvest season with their imports. The same is happening in Georgia, Michigan, California and other states that grow blueberries through the spring and summer months. The main reason Mexican imports are able to undersell Florida growers is that our farmers, and American farmers generally, are at a tremendous disadvantage in farm labor and harvesting costs. Mexican producers pay only a tenth of what Florida farmers pay. Our blueberries are ethically sourced with higher food safety and environmental standards than exist in other countries.

Blueberry consumption has increased as more people appreciate the health benefits of this crop, so we should be enjoying a boom in sales. But blueberry imports have surged by 62 percent since 2015. Besides Mexico, other countries exporting blueberries — Argentina, Canada, Chile and Peru — have also ramped up production to sell into the American market. The result is falling blueberry prices that are devastating the balance sheets and business prospects of blueberry farmers here and in other states.

We sought relief from Washington. But the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) concluded an investigation by deciding that blueberry imports are not harming our farmers. As a result, imports will continue to flood into our market this season and beyond. The outcome of this investigation reveals deficiencies in our trade laws and puts the long-term viability of the domestic blueberry industry — and family farms like mine — in jeopardy. 

During the investigation, we received support from members of Congress and state elected officials — including Sen. Marco Rubio and Nikki Fried, Florida’s agricultural commissioner —many agricultural groups, and we plan to work with them on other remedies to ensure that American consumers continue to have access to fresh, high-quality, safe, domestically grown blueberries. 

FBGA will continue to advocate for you, the Florida Grower.  

We will continue to keep trade laws that adversely affect our industry in front of our legislators.  

I will continue to keep trade laws that adversely affect you in front of our legislators.

Brittany H. Lee

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