U.S. blueberry producers feel sting of imports, look to ITC for assistance
In recent years, U.S. blueberries have been subject to a significant increase in imports. In fact, according to U.S. import data, this influx in blueberry imports, up 75 percent in the past five years, has devastated blueberry producers across the country.
In response, U.S. producers established the American Blueberry Growers Alliance (ABGA) in December 2020 to provide domestic blueberry farmers a unified voice to promote the long-term viability of the U.S. blueberry industry.
ABGA made one of their first big showings at a hearing on Jan. 12, where ABGA members presented the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) with information on the impact of rising imports and requested temporary relief.
“U.S. imports of blueberries have surged in recent years as foreign growers have deliberately targeted the U.S. growing and harvesting seasons,” stated Jerome Crosby, chairman of ABGA’s executive committee. “Over the past several years, blueberry imports increased dramatically from Chile, Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Canada, rising from 423 million pounds in 2015 to 684 million pounds in 2019.”
Crosby noted imports from these five countries collectively accounted for 99.7 percent of all U.S. blueberry imports, which, after deducting re-exports, totaled 629.9 million pounds or $1.4 billion in 2019, accounting for 51.6 percent of U.S. consumption by quantity and 65.5 percent by value.
Comparatively, Crosby said U.S. import data shows domestic consumption of blueberries totaled approximately 1.2 billion pounds or $2.2 billion in 2019, and U.S. producers shipped 591.9 million pounds or $755.4 million in 2019, accounting for 48.4 percent of U.S. consumption by quantity and 34.5 percent by value.
“Imports from Peru have risen from $57.1 million in 2015 to $523.8 million in 2019, an increase of 816 percent,” stated Crosby. “Imports from Mexico have risen from $140 million in 2015 to $302.5 million in 2019, an increase of 116 percent.”
Additionally, Crosby said imports from Canada have risen from $256.9 million in 2015 to $280.5 million in 2019, an increase of 9.2 percent, while imports from Chile have increased from $383.1 million in 2015 to $399.1 million in 2019, an increase of 4.2 percent.
Therefore, global imports have risen from $942.5 million in 2015 to $1.56 billion in 2019, an increase of 65.7 percent, according to Crosby.
With many U.S. blueberry producers feeling the sting of these increased imports, ABGA testified before ITC to ask for temporary relief.
Reps. Austin Scott (R-GA), Bill Huizenga (R-MI), Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-GA), Gregory Steube (R-FL) and John Rutherford (R-FL) were also present at the hearing on Jan. 12 to offer their support for the American blueberry industry.
“Because of booming domestic demand, we should be enjoying a market in which there is room for both domestic and foreign growers to profit,” stated Crosby at the hearing. “However, foreign government policies targeting the U.S. market and large corporate import interests have combined to bring massive volumes of blueberries into our market, increasingly during periods that in the past provided growers with the bulk of their revenues and often all of their profits for the year.”
Executive Director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and Owner of Florida Blue Farms Brittany Lee commented, “The massive increase in Mexican imports during our harvesting season has crippled the Florida blueberry industry and threatens its very existence. Over the period 2009 to 2019, we saw imports from Mexico increase by 2,111 percent. We have experienced a significant decline in price per pound for fresh blueberries in Florida and a huge loss of market share.”
Jayson Scarborough, a blueberry farmer in central California noted imports have also had devastating impacts in the West.
“Ten years ago, imports filled an important role by ensuring supply of fresh berries in the few months where there was little to no production in the U.S. during winter months. But, this is no longer the case,” said Scarborough. “Imports from Mexico and Peru, in particular, now enter our market throughout our harvesting period in California. Prices for these imported berries are extremely low, which means when we begin to sell our harvests, the price point has already deteriorated significantly due to the presence of large volumes of imported fruit in the market.”
Rex Schultz, president of the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee, told ITC the U.S. blueberry industry has made extensive marketing efforts over the years to educate consumers. However, these efforts have had little impact.
“Foreign producers are taking the benefit of these efforts, in some instances by creating industries out of nothing and exploiting cheap labor and poor environmental regulation overseas,” said Schultz. “Producers in foreign countries are totally dependent on our market, and they have every incentive to keep shipping more and more product here. This is not a sustainable situation for the American blueberry farmer.”
Advantages of domestic production
Decreasing the amount of blueberry imports and increasing domestic production would certainly help U.S. producers. Additionally, Crosby noted berries grown domestically have a large advantage over those sourced from out of the country.
“U.S. blueberries are ethically sourced. Domestic farmers adhere to higher food safety, labor and environmental standards than exist in many of the foreign markets where imports are sourced,” he explained.
“We believe the taste and freshness of American blueberries is the highest in the world,” Crosby added. “Imported product cannot compete with the food safety standards of domestic blueberries.”
Hannah Bugas is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.