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Competition from Mexico a factor in declining eggplant market
Eggplant production in Florida is increasing substantially as warmer weather arrives and drives plant growth. Along with Florida, Mexico is seeing strong production in many of their growing regions also. This is, however, causing a drop in prices and growers are finding it harder to sell it for a decent return, even in the organic category.
"Eggplant is getting very cheap," said Jim Alderman of Alderman Farms Sales. "There is a lot coming out of Mexico and Immokalee right now as well as conventional product on Florida's east coast. Spring is a good time as we now have much warmer weather, with day highs into the high 80s, low 90s. This is causing volume to come on strong but there is also a lot of 'Choice' grade around which is driving prices down. We grow organic and even for us, it's almost not worth to ship it out a great distance."
Organic eggplant not a huge growth market
The demand for organic eggplant is steady, however it is not seeing the level of solid growth as other commodities are, such as tomatoes and squash. "Although demand has been steady, it's not the biggest mover in organic," Alderman noted. "We mainly carry it as we have other organic commodities that do quite well, and it's good to be able to offer it to customers, giving them the option of a one stop shop."
According to Alderman, there is big competition coming out of Mexico for organic eggplant. He said that volume is becoming considerable, which is leading to market prices falling below cost thanks to an over-abundance of product. "There is a lot of competition coming out of Mexico, particularly for organic," he said. "Mexican growers are filling up with organic and then once the market is saturated, they sell the remainder as conventional."
Another issue, growers assert, is that organic certification is much less stringent in Mexico, as 3rd party certifiers are not required to be audited for their work there. "Organic has boomed in Mexico and we've seen the market for organic drop significantly as a result," Alderman explained. "This is partly due to the ease of certification there. The USDA has no jurisdiction down there, and that means the 3rd party organic certifiers are able to operate without the auditing requirements that they must adhere to in the United States. There is not as much testing that is undertaken and growing guidelines are less transparent."
Mexico seeing all the growth
Growers have noted how much Mexican products have expanded their presence in the US market. Florida growers, in particular, are feeling the effects as they share a closer climate and product availability as many Mexican growing areas. This is leading to US farmers struggling to compete with the higher cost base and as a result, many growers have closed their businesses.
"Back in the 70s, there were a couple of hundred tomato growers in Florida, and now there are more like 20," Alderman observed. "There are many farmers that close their doors each year, and this is happening across all commodities. The fresh produce industry is slowly dying in Florida and it's partially due to the competition from Mexico, where they have much lower labor costs and they grow for volume rather than the market."
"Agreements such as NAFTA benefit big producers like grain growers, which still make up the majority of US agriculture," Alderman continued. "Unfortunately, it means that fresh produce growers in Florida are sacrificed. Now we are seeing more infrastructure and technology directed into Mexico which is only going to speed things up. Mexico is quickly working out how to grow commodities at higher elevations for greater year round production. Therefore, we are already seeing many more products subject to this competition and as a result, a broader amount of growers. When it comes to NAFTA and other similar agreements, we're not looking to shut the door on Mexico, we just want to make sure it's fair for the American farmer."
For more information:
Alderman Farms Sales Corp.
Tel: +1 (561) 369-2801
Publication date: 4/13/2018
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