Manatee, Florida - United States tomato growers, fed up with the cheap prices of Mexican produce, have asked the government to terminate an anti-dumping agreement they say is not being enforced.
Terminating the agreement will allow the growers to find other means to achieving a fair market, they say.
"Let's not keep an agreement that is not going to be enforced," said Bob Spencer, vice president of Palmetto-based West Coast Tomato and a council member of the Florida Tomato Exchange. "We're going to seek other action in finding a fair market."
Several tomato growers across the United States recently filed documents with the US Department of Commerce and the US International Trade Commission to withdraw its anti-dumping agreement with Mexico.
In 1996, growers including the Florida Tomato Exchange, a non-profit association of tomato growers, filed the anti-dumping petition, claiming Mexico was exporting its tomatoes at extremely low prices.
Mexican producers and exporters rejected three proposals from the United States government before agreeing to the existing policy in 2008. Still, the Florida Tomato Exchange felt Mexico never fully complied.
"Imports today are roughly three times the value that they were when the case was first brought with a staggering level of imports of roughly $1.8 billion last year," said Jimmy Grainger, an executive with Palmetto-based Taylor & Fulton Packaging, and president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, in a statement released by the association.
"It's time to end the charade and restore fair prices that reflect market reality," he said.
Manatee, along with Hillsborough County, produce 40 percent of tomatoes grown in Florida. Manatee is the state's leading tomato-growing county, according to the county's University of Florida Institute of Agricultural Sciences extension office. As of 2010, tomatoes accounted for 12,000 of 28,000 total acres used for vegetable production there.
Local growers have been affected by low prices all season. In April, Hunsader Farms in East Manatee opened acres to the public to fill one or more 25-gallon containers for $1 each. Spencer said Florida growers are under the most fierce regulations in the nation while Mexico's tomato trading procedures are far less enforced. "You don't know what's coming in," he said.
Florida Department of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam released a statement Friday urging the Department of Commerce to accept the industry's request."Already suffering from weak demand in a difficult economy," the statement read, "Florida's tomato growers cannot compete in a market flooded by unprecedented imports of tomatoes from Mexico at prices well below the cost of production."