Tifton, Georgia farmer Bill Brim is ready to voice his concerns about unfair trade practices during one of the two virtual hearings scheduled for Aug. 13 and Aug. 20 with the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office.
The hearings will provide the U.S. Department of Commerce and Trump Administration an opportunity to hear from seasonal produce growers in Georgia and Florida on the urgent need for federal action regarding unfair trade.
“I feel like if we don’t do it, we’re not going to get anywhere, so we might as well do what we can do even if we make them mad,” said Brim, co-owner of Lewis Taylor Farms. “They’re either going to do what they feel like they’re going to do or they’re going to do what’s right. What’s right is to help support us and our farming operations to allow us to be able to compete with the rest of the world.”
Competition Against Mexico
Competition against Mexican imports is tough, though, if not impossible, for specialty crop growers in the Southeast.
“We can’t grow this product cheaper than they can grow it. Their wages are so much cheaper than ours. They’re making $8 or $9 a day, maybe, if they’re lucky. We’re paying $11.77 an hour for ours, plus all of our input costs are a lot more than theirs too,” Brim said. “They don’t have food safety to deal with like we do. They don’t have all the other items to have to deal with like we do, from FDA and EPA and everybody else.”
He estimated that costs increase to $15 per hour per worker since Lewis Taylor Farms houses the workers as well. The high costs that specialty crop farmers already deal with was amplified this year because of the health and safety protocols needed for workers during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This COVID-19 has cost us a fortune to keep them where they can work; spraying houses every day. We’re spraying buses every day, we’re spraying the kitchen every day, we’re spraying tractors every day, the trucks every day,” Brim said.
Additional information on USTR field hearing dates, deadlines, and submission instructions can be found in the Federal Register notice.