Low tomato prices pump up blame game

02/02/2012 05:02:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Amid reports some Mexican tomatoes destined for U.S. markets are being returned to shippers because of glutted markets, Nogales, Ariz.-based grower-shippers who have found homes for all of their Mexican-grown fruit are counting themselves lucky.

In Florida, meanwhile, the tomato industry continues to lay the blame for sagging markets on overproduction south of the border.

Media reports in late January quoting officials from the Commission for Research and Protection of Sinaloa Vegetables (CAADES) and other Mexican organizations said that tomatoes were at risk of being rejected and in some cases destroyed because there was no market for them in the U.S.

CAADES’ Mario Robles, the official quoted in an El Sol de Sinaloa newspaper story, did not return requests for comment.

Jaime Chamberlain, chairman of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and president of Nogales-based J-C Distributing, Inc., had not heard reports of Mexican tomatoes getting rejected at the border.

“Shippers are only packing what they’re able to sell,” Chamberlain said. “The quality is outstanding, some of the best we’ve had in a couple of years.”

Chamberlain also said it was strange that Florida growers and officials were blaming the low prices on Mexico.

“They have a lot more than we have,” he said, adding that Florida volumes have been higher than Mexican volumes for weeks.

Florida did ship more field-grown round tomatoes in the week ending Jan. 28, but when Mexican vine-ripe greenhouse-grown tomatoes were added, Mexico shipped more overall, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mexico also shipped far more roma tomatoes, more cherry tomatoes and about the same number of grape tomatoes as Florida the week ending Jan. 28.

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the FPAA, said he also had not heard reports of rejections. He did say Mexican shippers were choosing very carefully what fruit to send to the border.

“I’ve heard that they’re trying to limit shipments to only the highest quality at this point in order to mitigate the oversupply,” Jungmeyer said.

Chris Ciruli, partner and chief operating officer for Nogales-based Ciruli Bros. LLC, said because of the large volumes, only No. 1-quality tomatoes are making it over the border.

And that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

“It’s the peak of the deal, and at the moment it’s very low price-wise,” Ciruli said Jan. 31. “Supplies are very high, and I don’t see it changing through March.”

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Danny Mandel    
Rio Rico, AZ  |  February, 02, 2012 at 06:51 PM

The Florida Tomato Exchange is again pulling out the strawman of overproduction of Mexican tomatoes. The Packer has done a poor job here of uncritically accepting their comments. From where are they getting their volume figures? The USDA report of 1/31/ 02 shows total Mexican crossings for all ports, of Tomatoes and Romas combined, at 97 loads (40,000lb. equivalent). For the same date for Florida, they show Tomatoes and Romas combined as 199 loads (40,000lb equivalent). Furthermore, this metric doen not capture Florida Tomato production consumed instate or Mexican production would be even a smaller fraction of the total. How did The Packer determine that tomatoes were standing unsold in Nogales? SunFed does not have an unsold tomato available, nor do the Nogales shippers quoted above. Mexico provided the United States with fresh tomatoes throughout December and much of January when supplies were very short while keeping prices reasonable for our citizens, which The Packer feels is not worthy of their investigation. On cue, the moment Florida has a challenging marketing situation they claim Mexico is a problem "flooding the markets". "Tremendous volume" "No place to go"? Where is the due diligence that should have been done before this article was released?

John W    
FLORIDA  |  February, 03, 2012 at 10:45 AM

We have run into Mexican product everywhere OPEN. "Reported" volume may not be there but Mexico is doing an amazing job at sticking it to the American grower on price. Price matters to us.... our business is not a laundry service for money.

CA  |  February, 02, 2012 at 09:26 PM

Danny Mandel: If I may just "piggy back" off your convo, Its been a very long time that I have been active in the tomato category, BUT, wasn't it the Florida Tomato Shippers that brought on the "tomato suspension agreement" years ago to "TRY" to hamper Mexican tomato imports then?

Floriduh  |  February, 03, 2012 at 07:49 AM

This comment has been deleted.

February, 03, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Looks like you have not visit your South Neighbour lately and see the 15 years efforts and Investments Mexican were made into the fields and Greenhouse facilities all over the Country and how efficient they are in terms of production, quality and logistic. Its very easy to blame the competition if you sit without innovating & investment on the field to be competitive. Mother Nature provides us the soil and let us the rest for us to work it hard. I suggest you to stand up and start working my friend, today there is no only Mexico, you have China, Japan, Germany, India among others countries, taking advantage from people like you that takes excuses and dont see the coming of a new world..that is already here. wake up. p.s. If you see any salmonella in Mexican tomatoes, please report it.

John W    
Florida  |  February, 03, 2012 at 02:56 PM

One more thing... You forget we are talking about AMERICAN MARKETS, NOT Mexican! We are talking about the country our families, our businesses, and our customers are in.... How could you promoters of Mexican product ever think the American grower would have any respect for Mexican produce? Mexico does not play by the same set of rules and obviously does not care about profitablity (hmm... I wonder why?). No one can grow tomatoes for $5.00 and be in business very long unless they had other MORE PROFITABLE/BURNABLE cash crops subsidizing them...

Sandy G    
Redland, Florida 33031  |  February, 04, 2012 at 11:26 AM

This comment has been deleted.

Juan Perez    
baja  |  February, 06, 2012 at 12:49 AM

Danny Mandel, your bussines do not have available tomatoes because you bussines is squash no tomatoes

Guadalajara, Mexico  |  February, 06, 2012 at 03:49 PM

Waht about american cheap imports to mexico? Corn, soy beans, chiken, pork, beef? We have to be fair and play by the same rules of free trade!

California  |  February, 06, 2012 at 04:27 PM

Unfortunately, American farmers and the American government have brought much of the current "distress" upon themselves. I find it ironic that some commenters are eluding to Mexican farmers using "other" methods to finance their farming operations which keeps them from needing to be profitable while American farmers here regularly break the law by hiring illegal workers and paying them cash (or not at all sometimes) which obviously lowers their costs. While there are concerns with all foods in regard to safety and cleanliness, the U.S. is quickly spiraling downward with regard to illegal hiring practices, unsafe and unsanitary working conditions and packing facilities and the proliferation of GMO's and the gross and negligent use of chemicals in our food supply. From outward appearences it seems the farms of Mexico are making great strides in the safety of their food product while the American farms seem to always be looking at more ways to cut corners at the expense of healthful practices. I always try to buy American produce, but recently I'm buying from my local certified farmer's markets or looking at produce which is superior when I'm in the grocery store. This should be a wake up call.

Rod Sbragia    
Nogales, AZ  |  February, 08, 2012 at 10:35 AM

I find it quite interesting to hear the comments from supporters of Florida growers disparaging the growers of fresh produce from Mexico. Mexican growers have invested millions of dollars in the past 10 years to move forward technologically their growing operations. In doing so, they have conserved water, reduced chemical usage, and reduced their carbon footprint substantially. They have acted in a manner conducive to reducing their impact on the environment, and improved their production yields at the same time. What has Florida done to match this effort? Relative to marketing, the Florida growers, and their sales agents, continue to sell at prices, during glut situations, at prices well below what they substantiated to the Dept. of Commerce was their breakeven point. How can a group stipulate that another group must sell at a minimum price, and then sell their product all over the country at $ 2.00 less than that price to penetrate markets. Now who is dumping? The reality is that “Dumping” investigations have almost always been related to durable goods, where production can easily be halted. When it comes to Fresh Produce, we all put the product in the ground and harvest it when it is ready. We all then try to get the best price we can in a very short window based on prevailing markets, and the perishability of the product. Any other thoughts are ludicrous, and amazingly this subject always comes up in an election year.

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