Why growers need to embrace Opportunity 2020
As a Florida grower, you appreciate the challenges that come with the job. Fighting bugs, diseases, weeds, and weather keep you on your toes, especially with our climate here in the Sunshine State. Production challenges are one thing, but you also find yourself facing other obstacles that, in many ways, are beyond your control. Labor uncertainty, markets, rising costs, foreign competition, and water woes all come to mind.
All of the above require you to apply the skills you have honed over the years and deploy new ideas and technology to remain competitive. As we head into 2020, we want to help you in that endeavor. Florida Grower magazine, along with our sister publications American Fruit Grower and American Vegetable Grower, are launching a program we’re calling Opportunity 2020. We’ll be bringing you content focused on real-world, practical steps you can take to navigate through these turbulent dynamics.
And there are plenty of new things on the horizon to learn about as we roll out Opportunity 2020. Here are just a few:
Hemp: There’s tons of interest, perhaps even hype, around the latest alternative crop on the block. Like everything else, you will have to carefully vet this crop as plantings begin early next year once all the new rules and regulations are put into place and permitting begins. But, with uses from simple fiber to the higher-value CBD market, as alternative crops go, hemp seems to have legs. Florida also has the advantage of being able grow multiple crops in a year, which is an edge states can’t boast.
H-2A Reforms: Florida is one of the leading users of the labor visa program in the country. It has its challenges with typical government red tape and its expense. This year, the Trump administration proposed reforms to the H-2A program to streamline its operation and make it easier for growers to get labor when and where they need it. As they say, “the Devil is in the details.” We shall see, but hopefully this will represent some good news on the labor front in the coming year.
New Tomato Suspension Agreement: Our tomato growers have felt the negative impact of Mexico dumping product into the U.S during Florida’s market window. This has been going on since NAFTA was signed into law. Earlier this year, Mexico and the U.S. agreed to a new suspension agreement, which again halts an investigation that Mexico is dumping products into our markets. To seal the deal, Mexico has made some concessions that seemingly satisfy our tomato growers. Again, the Devil is in the details, and our government must fully fund the new policy to be effective, but it is nice to see some positive movement on that front after years of frustration.
Technological Advancements: This is a big area that is advancing faster than you think. Computing power is growing by leaps and bounds, enabling new breakthroughs in digital farming. It won’t be long before robots will be helping you harvest your crops. Artificial intelligence will help you make more informed decisions about how your crop inputs are applied. All of these should make agriculture more efficient and productive. But, will these technologies make you more profitable?
Profitability: That must be the charge of the entire agricultural industry. That’s what Opportunity 2020 is all about. If you are doing things to make your farm more profitable that might help other growers do the same, I want to hear from you. Email me directly. We will share your stories, and much more, in the year ahead.
Frank Giles is editor of Florida Grower
Anti-dumping investigation on imported Mexican tomatoes
In September, the contentious debate between Florida and Mexican tomato growers seemed to hit a smooth patch when both parties agreed to a new suspension agreement that provides protections to U.S. tomato growers. The agreement “suspended” an antidumping investigation by the U.S. Commerce Department, which had begun in May after a 2013 suspension agreement was terminated.
That all seemed to hit another snag just a month later when the Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE) requested the Commerce Department to continue its antidumping investigation. The FTE noted it was taking the action “reluctantly,” but felt it was necessary due to Mexico’s signaling intentions to challenge the new suspension agreement both legally and politically. On Oct. 17, the Commerce Department notified the FTE it would continue the investigation.
On Oct. 22, the Commerce Department announced a final dumping margin of 21 percent, resulting from the resumed investigation. In other words, Mexican tomatoes were being sold in the U.S. market at 21 percent fair-market value.
Legal and Political Motivation
A statement by the FTE noted reasons why it was requesting to continue the investigation. “In an Oct. 3 letter to the Commerce Department, the Mexican growers’ associations signaled a strong likelihood that they would challenge the new suspension agreement in court. There also have been multiple public reports that the Mexican tomato industry will do everything possible to renegotiate the agreement, and they are counting on strong action by the Mexican government to insist on changes.
“Additionally, both the Confederation of Associations of Agriculture State of Sinaloa and Red Sun Farms—a large Mexican producer—have pending litigation against the U.S. government at the Court of International Trade. The appeal by Red Sun Farms argues that Commerce did not lawfully terminate the 2013 Suspension Agreement, thereby asserting the old suspension agreement should be reinstated.
“These actions clearly indicate the Mexican industry plans to force a renegotiation of the agreement by withdrawing at some point in the near future.
“This is a tactic the Mexican tomato industry used three times in the past to avoid sunset reviews and to negotiate new agreements that were more favorable to them. Those resulting agreements failed to protect the U.S. tomato industry from the injury caused by dumped Mexican tomatoes. Given this precedent, plus the ongoing actions of the Mexican industry, the FTE has no choice but to request a continuation of the investigation.”
Associations representing 100 percent of Mexico’s tomato growers issued a statement pushing back on the FTE’s request to continue the antidumping investigation. The statement noted: “The Mexican tomato industry negotiated its agreement with the Commerce Department in good faith and has every intention of abiding with that agreement throughout its term. So long as the agreement is administered in good faith and in accordance with its terms, the Mexican industry has no intention of ever withdrawing. The Oct. 3 letter that the Mexican industry filed with the Commerce Department did not signal an intent either to challenge that agreement in court or to renegotiate the agreement. The letter simply corrected the characterization of data and certain unfounded allegations put on the record after the agreement was signed.”
“We intend to abide by this agreement we negotiated with the Trump Administration,” said Guillermo Jimenez, president of the Association of Mexican Horticulture Protected Agriculture, Mexico’s largest growers’ association.
Suspension Agreement to Continue?
According to the FTE, the suspension agreement signed in September will remain in effect during the resumed investigations. With the completion of the Commerce Department investigation, the International Trade Commission (ITC) will hold hearings on Oct. 24 to determine if U.S. tomato growers were injured by Mexican imports. A final injury determination is expected from the ITC by Dec. 4, at which point the full investigation, which first began in 1996, will be complete.
Duties of 21 percent will not be imposed as long as the agreement is in effect. Alternatively, if there is a negative finding (for dumping and/or harm), the proceeding will end, the suspension agreement will be terminated, and there will be free trade.
Frank Giles is editor of Florida Grower
Sizing up Florida's blueberry industry
Reflecting on the 2019 Florida blueberry season, like most seasons, there were highs and lows.
A notable win for our industry this year was inclusion in the recently signed disaster relief funds. These funds retroactively apply to our blueberry growers affected by Hurricane Irma. Growers will finally be able to apply for the much-needed relief after suffering losses from the devastating storm.
This was a record- breaking season. Record amounts of Mexican fruit crossed our U.S. border during the Florida season, and prices hit record lows during our production peak in April.
While many in the agriculture community consider the new United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA) an improvement, there are no improvements for seasonal fruits and vegetables. And like its NAFTA predecessor, we, the Florida blueberry grower, remain vulnerable and unprotected.
The unprecedented amounts of Mexican fruit in the U.S. during March, April, and May are absolutely crippling the Southeast domestic blueberry industry—the Florida blueberry industry.
We have suffered under the current NAFTA and will continue to suffer under the new USMCA.
Since 2010, more than 25 times the amount of fruit is now directly competing with our Florida crop in a three-month period.
While our growing costs domestically have increased because of regulations and other factors, Mexican growers benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars of government subsidies each year.
Our harvest expenses have nearly doubled in some areas, due to the unreasonably high cost of H-2A labor. Our Mexican counterparts, however, benefit from extremely low labor costs, paying harvesters for one day less than what we pay for an hour.
The Florida Blueberry Growers Association has been steadfast in working alongside other commodity and industry groups to continue to advocate for our industry for trade remedies. The Florida delegation in Congress has long been advocating for reasonable provisions to protect specialty crops.
We remain hopeful that a solution for the blueberry industry and other specialty crops is on the horizon.
Our message is that our growers only want an even playing field. They want an opportunity to continue their family operations and to be in production agriculture, providing a safe and healthy food source for our consumers.
We are not against free trade. We are for fair trade.
Brittany H. Lee is the Executive Director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association
OJ glass is half full
As we enter the 2019-2020 Florida citrus season, I find it interesting to ponder the seasons and cycles of our industry. Maybe it’s because “The Lion King” is now a remake ("The Circle of Life"), or because I am nostalgic as I prepare to take my only child to college, but the terms season, cycle, change, and adjust are more prevalent in my mind than ever.
When we take just a quick look back at the storied history of Florida citrus, we’ve weathered storms, freezes, pests, diseases, trade issues, competition, and skeptical consumers. While citrus greening has been the most severe of those challenges during my time in the industry, the other obstacles are cyclical. In those times of trouble, growers, processors, and packers all find unity.
Our interdependence is highlighted when we are fighting a known enemy. Today, we are faced with high inventories of 100 percent orange juice, lower consumer demand than any of us would like, and low production. Dr. Ron Ward, professor emeritus UF/IFAS, tells us that generating higher demand begins with higher consumer awareness, and we know that higher consumer awareness has a price tag.
This isn’t the first time we have heard that sentiment. I recall many presentations by past Florida Department of Citrus economists and consultants who said the exact same thing. The difference in those presentations was that our production of oranges was reaching all-time highs instead of record lows.
We were not an industry in recovery. From 1994 to 2004, we grew so many oranges and grapefruit that we had to find innovative ways to move solids by including them in other foods and educating consumers on their health benefits. Margins were still tight, but there was confidence that we were a sustaining—even thriving—agricultural sector.
If early citrus crop projections are accurate and we are not troubled by storms or freezes, this season will put us another step further toward being that confident, sustaining industry again. Now is the time to find some unity on how we shape the next decades of success.
Shannon Shepp is the executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus
Florida cost-share projects
Thirteen agricultural projects will be sharing in $1.56 million from the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) to improve water conservation and reduce nutrient loading to area waterways. The projects recently approved by the district’s governing board are estimated to collectively conserve 2.37 million gallons of water each day and reduce total nitrogen by 38,222 pounds per year and total phosphorus by 5,483 pounds per year.
Per the ranking approved by the SJRWMD board, the following projects will receive funds this cycle:
Lake Jem Farms Inc., Lake County, precision fertilizer application and irrigation conversion
Cherrylake Inc., Lake County, precision fertilizer application
Hooper’s Landscape and Nursery, Lake County, irrigation retrofit and soil moisture sensors
Sun Ag LLC, Indian River County, conversion to surface water
Hammond Groves/Sebastian River Farms, Indian River County, tailwater recovery and reuse
Triple J Farms, Brevard County, GPS controlled land forming technology
West River Groves, Indian River County, polypropylene ground cover and weather station
Orange Bend Harvesting Inc., Lake County, precision fertilizer application
May and Whitaker Family Partnership Ltd., Lake County, precision fertilizer application
London Farm and Cattle LLC, Marion County, bio-carbon application
Wild Goose Farms LLC/Sevorg Trading Co., Marion County, precision fertilizer application
Mercer Botanicals Inc., Orange County, irrigation retrofit
Twenty Twenty Groves, Indian River County, irrigation retrofit and pump automation
According to SJRWMD, it received 22 applications for projects seeking funds through the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Districtwide Ag Cost-share Program for projects in the 15 counties outside the Tri-County Agricultural Area (portions of Flagler, Putnam, and St. Johns counties), which has its own separate funding program for agricultural projects.
The types of projects eligible for funding include irrigation system retrofits, soil moisture and climate sensor telemetry, rainwater harvesting, subirrigation drain tile, and more. The program is entirely voluntary and includes a requirement that funding recipients modify their consumptive use permits to memorialize the actual water reductions resulting from the district’s monetary contribution.
Paul Rusnak is the Senior Managing Online Editor of Florida Grower, American Vegetable Grower, American Fruit Grower, and Greenhouse Grower magazines
Cranberry Florida orange snack mix
Try our cranberry Florida orange snack mix for the perfect afternoon snack your whole family will enjoy! A great grab-and-go option for those busy days with after school activities, our snack mix is made with the great taste of Florida orange juice and packs flavor with no added sugar.
¼ cup Florida orange juice
3 cups of a wheat-based cereal or pretzels
4 tbsp. butter
¼ cup coconut sugar
5 oz. dried cranberries
8 oz. sliced almonds
1. Preheat oven to 300° F
2. Combine cereal or pretzels and almonds on a large roasting pan and set aside
3. In a microwave safe bowl, combine Florida orange juice, melted butter and coconut sugar. Microwave the mixture on high for 30 seconds
4. Stir the mixture and pour it over the cereal, mixing until evenly coated
5. Bake for 30 minutes, mixing occasionally
6. Remove from oven and add in dried cranberries and sliced almonds. Allow to cool completely
7. Serve as a snack or packaged into Mason jars as a fun on-the-go treat
As a fully customizable snack, you can switch out the cereals, nuts or dried berries based on specific tastes or dietary restrictions. Try using different types of wheat-based cereals or pretzels.