Phil Glaize: Common sense reform needed

09/27/2010 03:16:35 PM
Tom Karst

 If the U.S. apple industry were to go out of business, the Chinese are ready to step in and supply our apples.  Ladies and gentlemen, the challenge we face is fundamentally about our food security as a nation. A 2007 examination of USDA import and export data showed alarming trends that should have spurred Congressional action. From 1990 to 2006, U.S. producers’ share of the U.S. market for fresh fruits and vegetables declined substantially. Nearly a third of fresh fruit and a fifth of fresh vegetables consumed in the U.S. are now imported, double to and in some cases triple the proportions in 1990.

U.S. producers are steadily losing market share to imports of virtually all fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S., including fresh production, but especially frozen and canned production and juices. We are talking about our ability to produce our own food. Without a stable labor force we will soon see a day where we rely on foreign  countries to feed us, much as we do for oil. Is that what we as a country want? I believe that is the legacy we give our children if Congress and the President continue to ignore this critical problem.

Specialty crop production is extremely risky. Average profitability doesn’t really give a proper return given the risk we take. For most of us, the reasons we stay in it are not economical. A  major life goal for me is to continue to provide jobs for as many people as possible. While only 5% of family businesses make it to the fourth generation, I am compelled to pass on or sell an organization that can sustain itself. Aside from weather risk, which we can’t control, there are two issues that will stop the next farmer from growing apples: low prices due to world supply and demand, and the tenuous nature of our current labor supply. Many say the immigration system is “broken” but what does that actually mean in the real world? I will describe what it means specifically for apples. Apples are grown  commercially in over 30 states.

We are a $2 billion industry, with over 7,500 commercial growers nationwide,most of whom are multi-generational family operations. Harvest season is now underway across the country and the crop is strong. Total crop projection for this year is 200 million bushels or about 90 apples for every man, woman and child in the U.S. To get all of those apples off the trees in the next couple of months it will take over 75,000 harvest workers.


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