Louie Carricarte and Michael Huter were happy farmers until a few weeks ago. That was when the United States signed a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that will drastically affect the way South Florida farmers do business, if they’re able to continue doing business at all.
The two Redland growers are among the South Florida specialty crop farmers who produce a sizeable amount of the country’s fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, lychees, strawberries. dragonfruit, mangos, avocados and mamey, among other specialty products. Many of them have been in business for decades, keeping family legacies alive in a part of Florida that provides most of the country’s winter produce.
According to Redland farmers, the new trade agreement, nicknamed USMCA, allows Mexico to sell the same fruits and vegetables that South Florida grows, at exactly the same time of year and at drastically lower prices, a process is known as “crop dumping.”
Kern Carpenter, whose family has grown tomatoes in South Miami-Dade County since the 1940s, says Florida’s farmers have been let down once again. “All we have asked for in the renegotiation of NAFTA is for fair trade,” he says. “If something is not done to stop Mexico from dumping vegetables…it will be a total disaster for the farmers.”
“We can’t compete in an unfair scenario like that. Mexico brings exact duplicate crops to market, crashes the prices, and upsets the whole system,” says Michael Huter, founder of Taste of Redland. ”And what’s more, it seems no one is paying attention to what this is doing to the small farmers in Redland.”
“Agriculture is Florida’s second largest economic driver, after tourism, and the state is one of the largest producers of fruits and vegetables in the country,” said Carricarte, owner of Redland’s Unity Groves. “Unless the federal government addresses Mexico’s unfair predatory trade practices, Florida’s economy could crash.”
In the trade negotiations with the Trump administration, Mexico insisted on the removal of the Seasonal Specialty Crop Provision which would limit Mexico’s ability to “dump” crops in U.S. markets at extremely low prices, forcing Florida and other American growers to match the prices or lose out on sales.
According to a recent McClatchy D.C. Bureau article, “Mexico now tops Florida in U.S. market share of strawberries, peppers and tomatoes, a sea change from the 1990’s.” Florida’s tomato farming land has shrunk from 45,200 acres in 2005 to 32,000 acres a decade later. Redland farmers and farming advocates complain that the new USMCA agreement is “too little, too late” and will only embolden Mexico to expand its practices.
“This is not the outcome we have worked for,” said Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. “We will continue working with the administration on solutions to stop Mexico’s unfair trading practices.”
With Stuart and other industry leaders, Redland farmers have been busy contacting members of Congress about the issue. On October 2, U.S. Representatives Carlos Curbelo and Al Lawson, Jr. introduced bipartisan legislation to guarantee Florida specialty crop growers the long-sought Seasonal/Perishable Crop Provision currently lacking in the USMCA agreement. Similar legislation has been introduced by Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.
“This legislation allows our South Florida growers to sell their specialty crops at fair and competitive prices in our domestic market, and protects them from unfair trade practices,” said Curbelo.
“If the bills become law, Redland growers will have a fighting chance,” says Carricarte. “Without it, any logical person surely must see the possibility of disaster for Florida’s economy.”