Jul 31, 2023Ag-Mart Produce ceases Florida tomato production
Florida tomato grower Ag-Mart Produce is ceasing domestic farming of its signature grape tomatoes, citing below-market pricing on imports.
The company, which operates as Santa Sweets, reported its plans in a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notice to the Florida Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The company plans to lay off 130 employees, most of them at its office and warehouse headquarters in Plant City, Florida. According to the notice, 104 employees in Plant City are losing their jobs, as are 16 employees at farm operations in Myakka City, Immokalee, Duette and Jennings.
“Ag-Mart has made the difficult decision to discontinue domestic farming operations and conduct this layoff due to the inability to compete with submarket pricing of imported produce from such areas as Mexico and the Dominican Republic,” according to the WARN Act letter, signed by George Binck, chief operating officer.
The layoffs could begin as early as Sept. 15 and continue in phases through February.
The company also grows in Mexico, according to its website.
The company’s decision comes as Florida tomato growers, through the Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE), are seeking to end the Tomato Suspension Agreement between the U.S. Department of Commerce and Mexican tomato growers groups. The agreement, first established in 1996, sets a floor price in the U.S. for tomatoes imported from Mexico in exchange for the Commerce Department halting an investigation into potential tomato dumping in the U.S. market.
In its request to the Commerce Department, the FTE in June said the various iterations of the suspension agreement have not been successful.
“This request was based on established facts and U.S. antidumping law,” according to an FTE news release. “This is not Florida vs. Mexico. This is a legal process supported by the vast majority of American tomato growers.”
The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA), which represents importers of Mexican produce, responded to the FTE request, saying withdrawing from the agreement would jeopardize the availability of the variety of tomatoes U.S. consumers expect.
“Through these actions, the FTE continues to attempt to use antidumping laws for the unintended purpose of creating a monopoly for themselves in the marketplace and covering for their unwillingness or inability to innovate and adapt to changing market demands,” according to an FPAA news release.