The almost exclusive winter marketing window that Florida growers enjoyed in the past is coming to an end as Mexican growers expand production and increasingly affect demand and prices.
Growing on twice as many acres as Florida, Mexican strawberry growers have significantly increased shipments to the U.S. and are expected to double acreage within the next five years, said Zhengfei Guan, a University of Florida assistant professor with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma.
The state of Florida’s strawberry industry bears a striking resemblance to the position Florida’s tomato growers found themselves in during the mid- to late 1990s, said Guan, who is studying the industry and plans to submit findings to an academic journal.
Mexican strawberry acreage has increased from an average 14,000 to 16,000 acres in 2000-10 to around 21,000 acres in 2012 with exports jumping from 70 thousand to 75 thousand metric tons during the first decade of the 2000s to 115 thousand metric tons in 2011.
U.S. imports of strawberries during the same time steadily increased from around 70 million pounds to 235 million pounds in 2011, according to information Guan cited from the Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
That led, in part, to a drop Florida’s market value and market share, Guan said.
The value of Florida’s strawberries tumbled from $366 million in 2010-11 to $201 million in 2011-12 and below the $298 million 2008-12 average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In surveys of growers accounting for more than 50% of Florida’s acreage, Guan said he finds an industry pessimistic about the future. Up to two-thirds of the growers he surveyed state they think the industry will decline in the next few years.
The 2011-12 season was disastrous and the 2012-13 season would have been as well if not for weather problems that hurt Mexican production, he said. If this season is another bad one, the growers Guan surveyed told him 60% of the industry would likely be out of business.
“The strawberry industry has realized things have changed but they don’t quite know what to do with it,” Guan said.
“A lot of things are out of their control like labor and government regulations. The strawberry and tomato industries need to innovate and change and grow new and better varieties and find cost-effective labor solutions.”