It’s round three for Michigan specialty crop growers in calling for another investigation by the International Trade Commission into unfair trade practices negatively affecting cucumber and squash growers in the state and across the nation.
In announcing his support for the ITC’s Section 332 investigation, Michigan Congressman Bill Huizenga said the state’s specialty crop growers are especially vulnerable to unfair trade practices.
“Michigan is known as one of the most agriculturally diverse places in the world,” Huizenga said in a statement. “Vegetable growers in West Michigan deserve to compete on a level playing field, and I will continue to be a strong voice in the effort to make that happen.”
In a bipartisan letter to the ITC, Michigan Reps. Huizenga, Jack Bergman, Dan Kildee, Lisa McClain and Fred Upton, along with another 25 members from Georgia and Florida, laid out concerns regarding imports from Mexico gaining significant U.S. market shares at the expense of American farmers.
“Seasonal cucumber and squash imports from Mexico continue to dramatically impact U.S. markets and threaten the future of domestic farm production of perishable produce,” the members wrote.
“This Section 332 investigation by the ITC for cucumbers and squash is needed to make a meaningful determination as to the impact of these seasonal imports on our markets. Market changes occur quickly and can devastate a grower’s season in a matter of days if imports increase and the resulting price decreases coincide with harvest.”
According to the USDA, Michigan ranked first nationally in the production of processed cucumbers and second behind Florida for fresh cucumbers. The processing production value for Michigan farmers is $33 million. The value of fresh cucumbers is $22.5 million for Michigan farmers.
In terms of squash production, Michigan ranked third in the nation for fresh summer squash and second for fresh winter squash, according to the USDA. The production value is $4.6 million for processed squash and $32.5 million for fresh squash.
Third-generation Coopersville farmer David Gavin of Gavin Orchards and Produce commended the support of Huizenga to level the playing field for West Michigan farmers.
“We take pride in the high-quality produce that we grow,” Gavin said. “Unfortunately, if we are unable to remain competitive with the unfair trade practices and the surge of cheap imports that threaten our very livelihood, many more of us growers will have to pursue other means to support our families resulting in higher food prices for the American consumer.”
Attention from U.S. trade officials is long overdue, according to Michigan Farm Bureau National Legislative Counsel John Kran, who noted concerns over market and price manipulation of imports during peak harvest times in Michigan are nothing new.
“Seasonal cucumber and squash imports from Mexico continue to dramatically impact U.S. markets and threaten the future of domestic farm production of perishable produce,” Kran said. “Michigan Farm Bureau is glad to see ITC is conducting this investigation and appreciate Reps. Huizenga, Bergman, Kildee, McClain and Upton for standing with our farmers on this critical trade issue.”
According to a recent report by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the total weight of squash shipped into or within the U.S. increased by 13.75% between 2015 to 2020.
Of this increase, 84.49% is accounted for by imports from Mexico. While imported squash from Mexico has increased in both volume and market share as U.S. demand for fresh and chilled squash increases, the growth in the size of the overall market did not translate into growth for domestic producers.
The FDACS report also indicates a similar trend in market share decline for cucumber producing states. Florida, Georgia, and Michigan have each seen a significant reduction in market share and shipment weight ranging from 35% to 63% in the last 20 years.
However, in 2020 the market share of imported cucumbers from Mexico saw a 34% increase with a shipment weight of 1.5 billion pounds (134% increase).
As the total weight of cucumbers shipped into or within the U.S. increased 75% in the past 20 years, from 1.2 billion pounds to 2.1 billion pounds, 853 million pounds is accounted for by imports from Mexico (94.7%).
Like squash, the growth of the overall market did not translate into growth for domestic producers.