This year was a season unlike any other for produce farmers in the Southeast.
Not only did COVID-19 strike at the worst time, but lingering international trade issues with Mexico resulted in diminished market prices for producers like Tifton, Georgia farmer Bill Brim.
If something isn’t done soon, 2021 will be no different than 2020.
“We’ve been fighting Mexico since probably the last week of October through now. It’s just been one battle after another with squash prices dipping down to $3, $2, whatever you can get for it to cucumbers at $9 when it ought to be $20. Squash at $3 or $2 should be $12 or $14,” Brim said.
“It’s hard when you don’t make any money. It’s one of those things where farmers are resilient thinking, they’re going to make a million dollars next year instead of losing a million. We’re kind of stupid, I guess. We think we can outsmart them, but I don’t think we’re smart enough to do that anymore.”
Brim and fellow farmers testified in August during virtual hearings with the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office regarding unfair trade practices with Mexico. The hearings provided the U.S. Department of Commerce and Trump Administration an opportunity to hear from growers in Georgia about the urgent need for federal action regarding unfair trade.
Federal agencies responded in September by outlining the Trump Administration’s plan to address the threat posed by increased imports. The plan included a request to the International Trade Commission to initiate a Section 201 global safeguard investigation into imports of blueberries.
In November, Georgia Congressmen requested a Section 332 Investigation on squash and cucumbers which was already being done for strawberries and bell pepper.
Cucumbers, Squash Included
On Dec. 4, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer requested that the U.S. ITC include in its investigations the import of cucumbers and squash and the effect on the domestic seasonal markets.
Hopefully, a long-term solution is in the works and will be imminent. It will not be a moment too soon.
“The last four seasons have been the toughest. We did benefit in the fall, early a little bit, so that helped us. In the spring late, in the last week of May and the first week or two of June, we did fairly well because Mexico wasn’t in. Of course, they weren’t in early on the fall deal. But as soon as they open that door, it’s like somebody just shut the lights off,” Brim said.
“Pepper undoubtedly must have been a little later in Mexico because they didn’t hit in our market until right at the tail end of it. It went from like $22 to like $14 overnight. It doesn’t seem to change. People just don’t get it.
“We’ve got to have something, or we won’t survive. I just don’t know how they can continue to think we can survive when (Mexico is) paying their people down there 81 cents an hour and we’re paying $11.77 plus free housing, free transportation and everything else. We’ve got about $15 an hour in it by the time we finish up doing everything for them.”