Bangor Blueberry Grow Joins Testimony to ITC of Blueberry Import Damage

A prominent Bangor blueberry grower who also serves as President of the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee has joined fellow American blueberry farmers in testimony before the International Trade Commission in Washington D.C. regarding the impact of surging blueberry imports on the nation’s domestic blueberry industry.

Farmers contend the U.S. blueberry industry has made extensive marketing efforts over many years to educate purchasers and consumers about blueberries, which has increased demand. Unfortunately, Rex Schultz of Heritage Blueberries of Bangor says, “Foreign producers are taking the benefit of those efforts, in some instances by creating industries out of nothing and exploiting cheap labor and poor environmental regulation overseas.” As President of the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee, Schultz adds, “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.”

Blueberry farmers like Schultz and others in West Michigan as well as from across the United States are asking the ITC for temporary relief from the surge in imports that continues to harm the domestic industry

Members of the American Blueberry Growers Alliance (ABGA), a group representing U.S. domestic blueberry farmers, today provided information to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) during a hearing on the impact of rising imports during the U.S. growing and harvest seasons. American blueberry growers across the country – mostly small, family-run farms – have been devastated by an influx in blueberry imports by 75-percent in the past five years, according to U.S. import data.

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Jerome Crosby, Chairman of the ABGA Board of Directors and owner of Pineneedle Farms in Willacoochee, Georgia, says, “Because of booming domestic demand, we should be enjoying a market in which there is room for both domestic and foreign growers to profit, however, foreign government policies targeting the United States 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.”

Brittany Lee, Executive Director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and owner of Florida Blue Farms, contends, “The massive increase in Mexican imports during our harvesting season has crippled the Florida blueberry industry and threatens its very existence,” and adds, “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.”

Imports have also had a devastating effect on blueberry farmers in Western states. Jayson Scarborough, a blueberry farmer in Central California, says, “Ten years ago, imports filled an important role by ensuring supply of fresh berries in the few months is no longer the case,” adding, “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 that 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.”

Shelly Hartmann, owner of True Blue Farms in Grand Junction here in Southwest Michigan, argues that massive amounts of fresh blueberries coming in from Mexico and South America often arrive without a buyer, contending, “Peruvian product can arrive in massive shipments, with hundreds of thousands and even millions of pounds of perishable fresh blueberries on one ocean-going vessel that has been in transit at least two weeks before being unloaded at U.S. ports.” She adds, “When these blueberries are released all at once onto the fresh market, they cause prices to crater. This pushes domestic production of blueberries grown for the fresh market into the frozen market.”

In addition, several members of Congress also testified before the ITC in support of American blueberry growers, including Congressman Bill Huizenga of Michigan, Reps. Austin Scott of Georgia, Earl L. “Buddy” Carter of Georgia, Gregory Steube of Florida and John Rutherford from Florida.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) is conducting a global safeguard investigation into imported fresh, chilled or frozen blueberries under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. The ITC will determine if the dramatic increase of foreign berries is “a substantial cause of serious injury, or the threat thereof” to American blueberry growers.

American Blueberry Growers Alliance (ABGA) is a national association representing blueberry growers and farmers in the United States. The alliance provides a unified voice for blueberry growers in states across the country, including California, Florida, Georgia and Michigan, advocating on behalf of their interests and for the long-term viability of the domestic blueberry industry. For more information, you can visit: http://americanblueberrygrowers.com.