Local Tomato Growers Struggle to Compete With Mexico's Crop

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Campbellton- With just one word, Jackson County Grower's Association President, Eric Toole painted a picture of what locals could expect to see of the tomato crop this coming season: "cutbacks."

Though many tout Florida tomatoes as the world's best, panhandle farmers said they were struggling to compete this year.

"Mexico's doing quite a bit and their labor situation down there is so much cheaper and the regulations for the pesticides and herbicides are so much more lax down there than they are up here" Toole explained." It's so much easier to put a product out down there even though it may be inferior."

In addition to a lack of pesticide regulations that cut costs for many Mexican growers, some Florida regulations limit local producers significantly.

"In Florida there's a thing called the Florida Tomato Council, and they have jurisdiction over most of the state of Florida. If a tomato doesn't meet the eye appeal, they won't let it be shipped out" Toole said.

That and the added pressure of foreign competition, Toole told us many producers were reconsidering their crop.

"Many farmers I know of are going to cut significantly their amount of acreage or maybe consider growing another vegetable crop. Or, maybe not even [plant tomatoes] and just let the land lay filo" he said.

Tomato crops are typically planted from mid February until the beginning of March. Toole advised farmers who were considering growing the crop to be cautious, but remember that a lot could change between now and then, and not to necessarily rule it out entirely.

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