Strawberry growers in the United States are feeling pressure from increasing strawberry production in Mexico. Zhengfei Guan, University of Florida assistant professor and agricultural economist, recently spoke at the Florida Agricultural Policy Outlook Conference about the struggles strawberry growers are facing and ways to combat those challenges.
Mexico’s strawberry production is rapidly growing, making the country a top competitor for growers in the United States. According to Guan, Florida’s strawberry industry currently has approximately 11,000 acres, while Mexico’s has about 25,000 acres. Therefore, the market share of Mexico’s strawberries in the United States is higher than the Florida supply. Mexico’s growth in production has been rapid. Guan says that just a few years ago Mexico’s production was half of what Florida’s was. However, in 2012, Mexico’s supply to the U.S. market was approximately 70 percent more than Florida’s supply.
Due to Mexico’s rapidly increasing production, U.S. growers are trying to navigate how to viably compete against the Mexican supply. Guan suggested some strategies for U.S. growers. Reducing costs could help U.S. growers compete against Mexico’s production. “At the end of the day, people will just go to the cheapest products,” Guan said.
Reducing labor costs is extremely important as well. According to Guan, 1 acre of strawberries takes $7,000 to $8,000 to pick by hand. He says mechanical harvesting techniques would not only reduce costs, but fix labor shortage issues as well. “That would be a game changer,” Guan said.
Another effective way to combat the Mexican strawberry production is differentiating the U.S. production by implementing better marketing strategies and creating new varieties. Guan says his colleagues at the University of Florida’s Gulf Coast Research and Education Center are currently working on creating new varieties. The U.S. industry is also looking into providing Mexico with limited access to new varieties.
Guan also discussed the option of alternative crops such as hops, blackberries and pomegranates. Due to the increasing pressure within the strawberry industry, growing alternative crops is a good strategy to keep up production. However, there are challenges to growing alternative crops. Guan and his colleagues are currently working on reducing those challenges and making alternative crops more cost-effective to grow.
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