Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Florida tomato growers not satisfied despite Mexico-U.S. agreement on prices

In March, after months of negotiations, it appeared Tony DiMare and other proponents of the Florida tomato industry won. They contended to the U.S. Department of Commerce that Mexican tomatoes were being dumped on the U.S. market at prices so ridiculously low, American growers couldn't compete. After tense discussions, with talk of the tomato war's ripple effect possibly damaging U.S. exports to Mexico, an agreement was reached.

The prices of Mexican tomatoes were increased. More enforcement was promised, by the U.S. government and Mexico.

It's not enough, DiMare said.

"We're not satisfied," said DiMare, president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, a lobbying group. DiMare is also the vice president of DiMare Co., an 85-year-old produce business started by his grandfather and two great-uncles in Boston. DiMare Co., said to be one of the nation's largest tomato producers, has farms and packing plants in California and Florida, with farms in Hillsborough and a plant and offices in Ruskin.

DiMare, who attended three meetings with the Commerce Department about the negotiations, said he has repeatedly contacted the agency after the results were announced, "expressing our displeasure and concern over what has been created with this agreement."

The agreement is complex and began in 1996 with accusations by American growers of Mexican companies dumping tomatoes — selling products at less than their cost of production. That investigation was suspended when Mexican growers agreed to a price. The agreement was revised in 2002 and 2008 before American tomato growers filed complaints with the Commerce Department last year.

DiMare said the new agreement creates a loophole where Mexican farmers can grow tomatoes in greenhouses (which have a more expensive selling price) but label them as open field (which are sold about 10 cents per pound cheaper.) He also said there shouldn't be a difference in prices between summer and winter harvests, which there is. He is upset because he said the U.S. government never demanded to find out costs of production from Mexican growers, so it isn't known if the raised prices in the agreement are sufficient.

"You must have the Mexican producers' cost of production," he said. "How can you establish what the reference price should be without that?"

Florida's tomato industry is second in the nation, slightly trailing California, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The two states account for about two-thirds of the country's tomato production. Hillsborough County produces 14 percent of Florida's tomatoes. Florida traditionally maintained an advantage from December through the latter part of May in the nation, where tomatoes here are ready earlier than in other states.

But Mexico's investment in greenhouse growing has them producing year-round, which DiMare said has led to the crumbling of the American tomato industry. He said before the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, there were 250 tomato growers in Florida.

Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, said there are now less than 75 tomato growers.

"This is what's left," Brown said. "We are struggling to ensure that Americans have the opportunity to buy tomatoes grown in America by Americans."

But Mexican growers and advocates say the fault is not with price but taste. At least 60 percent of Florida's tomatoes are grown for the fast food industry.

"Mexico is not the problem. The problem is (Florida) has not evolved. … They have become irrelevant in the marketplace," said Martin Ley, a spokesman for the Mexican growers and an executive with Mexican tomato importer Del Campo, in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in November.

"They've continued to supply tomatoes the consumer doesn't want," he said.

DiMare said Florida growers will continue to fight.

"This is going to continue going forward unless Commerce can enforce an agreement that will eliminate dumping of produce from Mexico," he said.

"From our view, they have yet to do that."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3405.

Comments
Toronto attacker likely hated women; 3 murdered film students had stumbled into Mexican gang battle; more in world news

Toronto attacker likely hated women; 3 murdered film students had stumbled into Mexican gang battle; more in world news

CanadaToronto attacker hated womenThe suspect in the deadly van attack in Toronto posted a chilling Facebook message just before plowing into a crowded sidewalk, authorities said Tuesday. The post indicated the computer studies graduate and ex-milita...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Carlos Gomez says he was guilty of only one thing in Sunday’s epic walkoff homer celebration

Carlos Gomez says he was guilty of only one thing in Sunday’s epic walkoff homer celebration

BALTIMORE – Carlos Gomez is perfectly willing to explain the specific elements that went into his epic celebration tour around the bases following Sunday's walkoff home run.The bat flip and raised arms were his initial reaction to how well he h...
Updated: 4 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 24

Tuesday’s scoreboardBaseballCalvary Chr. 8, Jesuit 1Boys TennisClass 3A, District 9-10 Regional Semifinal: Osceola 4, King 1Girls TennisClass 3A, District 9-10 Regional Semifinal: Osceola 4, Freedom 1...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

ST. PETERSBURG — Caps and gowns were in the future for Bryson Welton-Williams and his two friends.Then came Tuesday’s horrific car crash.The three 18-year-old Lakewood High School seniors drove off from school a few minutes early, just 22 days away f...
Updated: 6 hours ago
SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

LAND O’LAKES — A school resource officer at Sunlake High School is under investigation after he tried to take a female student into custody on Tuesday, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.School officials asked the SRO remove the student f...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Teen killed after SUV runs red light; man who fled scene captured

Teen killed after SUV runs red light; man who fled scene captured

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 17-year-old girl was killed Tuesday when her car was hit by a sport-utility vehicle that ran a red light, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.One of the occupants of the SUV who ran from the crash scene was captured hours late...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Softball: Haley Murphy, East Bay back in top form

Softball: Haley Murphy, East Bay back in top form

PLANT CITY — East Bay senior Haley Murphy had to take a few games off early this season to give the flaring tendinitis in her left knee a rest.When Murphy did come back around midseason, East Bay coach Glenn Rodriguez eased her into the fl...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

The family of the 18-year-old Sarasota high school student under fire for the racist prom proposal he sent out on social media this weekend has publicly apologized for their son’s actions.They also said that as a result of his actions, he will not at...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Softball: Boca Ciega gets a shot at defending district champ

DUNEDIN — Standing in centerfield during her team's Class 6A-9 district semifinal Tuesday night, Boca Ciega's Mia Blasingane had one dominating thought: "We want Tarpon Springs real bad. I was saying that to myself. I want to see Tarpon Springs...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Softball: Alonso knocks off defending state finalist PHU in 9A-8 semifinals

PALM HARBOR — To get an idea of just how tough the competition is in Class 9A, District 8, consider that there has been a different tournament champion each of the past three seasons.All three — Newsome (2015), Alonso (2016) and Palm Harb...
Updated: 7 hours ago