The Tomato Wars

Stiff competition from Mexico threatens the Florida tomato industry
Mexican competition threatens to overwhelm the Florida tomato industry

Florida

As we shift our attention to “Southern Demographic Displacement” in Florida, I have started researching the starring role that agribusiness has played in blocking previous attempts to pass immigration reform in Florida.

Here are some more facts about Florida’s tomato industry which is our jumping off point into this investigation:

1.) Florida’s tomato industry employs about 15,000 to 33,000 workers in a season, around 80 percent of whom are illegal aliens, and according to the Pew Hispanic Center there are around 900,000 illegal aliens currently in Florida.

2.) The majority of workers in Florida’s tomato industry are illegal aliens from Mexico, Guatemala, or Haiti who pick tomatoes in order to send remittances back home. In other words, foreign workers are sucking money out of circulation in Florida’s economy and sending it abroad where it creates jobs elsewhere.

3.) 80 percent of the tomatoes produced in Florida are grown in Southwest Florida near Tampa in Manatee and Hillsborough Counties. There are now probably over 40,000 Hispanics in Manatee County and over 80 percent of them are illegal aliens.

4.) Florida more produces 90 percent of America’s winter tomatoes – a crop worth more than $600 million annually. The “Florida Tomato Committee” now has around 75 members who own huge tracts of land.

90 percent of them belong to the “Florida Tomato Growers Exchange” which is their public lobbying arm. The “Florida Tomato Growers Exchange” opposed the penny a pound pay raise and labeled it “pretty much un-American.”

5.) Fast food giants like Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King refused for years – before finally capitulating – to pay illegal alien workers in Florida’s tomato industry an extra penny a pound for their labor.

Although it is still one of the crappiest jobs in America, the days of “modern slavery” accusations seem long gone, and the Florida tomato industry has taken major steps to reform itself in recent years.

6.) Reggie Brown, who is the public face of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, argued in 2011 that a Florida version of Arizona’s immigration law would destroy the Florida tomato industry which relies on illegal alien labor:

“Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, said a state immigration law could devastate his membership.

“It would basically eliminate the tomato industry from the state,” Brown said. “In agriculture we are totally dependent upon a hand process with no opportunity in the foreseeable future to do anything different.”

7.) In April 2013, the US and Mexico reached a deal on Mexican tomato imports which had been devastating the Florida tomato industry. Florida has been on the losing side of a “tomato war” with Mexico for 16 years:



Since NAFTA was signed in the early 1990s, the Florida tomato industry has faced strong competition from Mexico which has taken away half of their market share of winter tomatoes. Nearly half the tomatoes eaten in the US are now imported from Mexico. Mexican tomatoes are grown in greenhouses whereas Florida tomatoes are picked green and treated with gas to change their culture.

The new agreement substantially raises the “reference price” of Mexican tomatoes – exports to the US have quadrupled since 1996 – and essentially protects the Florida tomato industry. Wal-Mart sided with the Mexican government because it relies heavily on Mexican produce.

“We feel if we don’t draw a line in the sand so we can trade produce in this hemisphere freely and fairly there will be no domestic production of tomatoes in this country,” said Reggie Brown, vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, one of several grower groups that wants taxes imposed on Mexican imports.”

7.) Probably because Florida is a key swing state, the Obama administration sided with the Florida tomato industry over Mexico.

Mexican workers in Mexico are able to produce better and cheaper tomatoes than illegal aliens in Florida (where production is down by 41 percent) largely because Mexico’s climate (like California’s) is drier and thus superior for growing tomatoes.

8.) The Florida tomato industry, which lobbied so hard against Florida’s Arizona-style immigration law, has vigorously lobbied in favor of enforcement of the “reference price” set by NAFTA to protect themselves from Mexican competition:

“Little did we know that the enforcement we bargained for was really not going to be any enforcement at all. The end result is we had Barney for our policeman; we didn’t have Andy,” he joked, referring to the Andy Griffith show.

9.) Southwest Florida’s environment is unsuited for growing tomatoes, but the Obama administration is propping us this tottering industry anyway:

“Tomato plants don’t like it in Southern Florida. “From a purely botanical and horticultural perspective,” Estabrook says, “you would have to be an idiot” to try to grow tomatoes commercially there. The soil, Mark Bittman writes, is like “a lousy beach,” sandy and poor in nutrients. The humid climate provides breeding ground for voracious insect pests.

It takes a lot to grow a tomato in the sand of South Florida: tons of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Florida, Estabrook reports, uses about eight times as many chemicals per acre on tomatoes as California. …”

In the final analysis, Big Tomato can only explain a small part of the overall picture of “Southern Demographic Displacement” in Florida. The impact of the tomato industry is largely confined to two counties in Southwest Florida. Even if there are around 33,000 mostly Hispanic illegal aliens working in Florida’s tomato fields, there are now almost 4.5 million Hispanics living in Florida as a whole.

At the same time, Big Tomato’s political clout in Tallahassee and Washington must be tremendous. Florida’s tomato industry roared and its voice proved to be louder on Capitol Hill than Mexico and Wal-Mart combined. The influence of this special interest over the direction of immigration policy resonates far beyond Florida’s tomato fields.

About Hunter Wallace 9526 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent

20 Comments

  1. Screw big tomato and Walmart. With a little basic research like DARPA’s autonomous vehicle project we could automate picking of tomatoes. Not that it will help unemployment here but at least we wouldn’t have to pay for the aliens children, schools, hospitals, food stamps and all the other benefits they get here. I bet it’s a complete bust financially for the taxpayer over all. We should cancel NAFTA and raise tariffs.

  2. Probably only the first and second generations will work as field hands.

    It’s not the worst job, Hunter. Not so bad if you have farming in your blood. The worst things about it, I think, are chronic pesticide exposure and heat exhaustion. Have you ever picked potatoes by hand the old-fashioned way? More backbreaking than tomatoes. Even teenagers feel it. I remember begging to pick tomatoes all day on a large farm and cannery when I was young, and I worked in an orchard into my twenties, outproducing the persistent Vietnamese immigrant pickers. We were all lucky to make minimum wage, but if you love the outdoors and love freedom….

  3. @Sam

    Every year farming becomes more mechanized and robotic. What do we do with the millions of Mexicans who are being displaced by robotics here in the US? We are not talking the future—we are talking the here and now!

  4. There is an election we must attend every day: We ‘vote’ every day when choose to buy and eat either (1) food produced by global corporate agribusiness or (2) food produced by white traditional family farmers we know, or (3+) something in between, like a hippie mini farm, or one of those government-assisted ‘women and minorities in agriculture’ projects.

    History proves that Florida is not an impossibly difficult environment for tomato production, and new breeding for resistance to spotted wilt, and late blight that is endemic in the Deep South are making it easier.

  5. Automation YES–Illigals NO. The numbers of how many illigal aliens is wrong.Its alot higher than that. Just go to Miami and look arouind. We are the Minority now. You drive thru Florida thru places like Homestead which is 50 percent Mexican or higher and then Miami–and your mind will be blown how many illegals are there. Hardly any English speacking in Miami. Then take a trip to Immocholee, Walchula and as you drive along you notice how all the Mexie Towns are springing up and they stay there permantly. Since The Kennedys and Johnson got their Immigration ACt of 65–maybe 165 million have arrived. Just go to the big Airports like Miami and LA–you will be shocked at how they arrive everyday and most never go back. We are the Monority now in the REAL WORLD…Anyway Hydroponic Tomatoes are grown in Dade County alot.. Plus the USA gives away Passports now like candy. Just think about how much money is given away–freddy the free loader style by government. There is not enough of Whiggers left to keep the system afloat like Martin Liondstedt says… Then look at Harry Reid in Nevada–get the DHS rules done away with for VISAs and money from Asia to build Casino with Asian Workers… Like Robert Miles use to say jokingly..I love everybody–bring em all here–the whole world….Heck man–just drive by any school and look in the school yards.–its all dark and Brown now…

  6. ‘When’s the last time you had a tomato that actually tasted like a tomato?’

    Every summer, including the past one. Large, soft, rough-shaped old ‘beefsteak’ varieties ripened FULLY on the vine are always the best. Meanwhile, the Global Food Distribution System continues to increase the shelf life and even further improve the appearance (including the packaging and market presentation) of commercial hybrid tomatoes enough to keep the average ‘consumer’ choosing them OVER the white homegrown alternative. That’s the real Tomato War: not between Floridian and Mexican tomatoes, but GLOBAL TOMATOES attacking the last remnant of white traditional-family-farm-grown, TRULY vine ripened garden tomatoes.

  7. In the past, most white people knew what truly home grown food tastes like. Now, the average consumer knows only the Big Box and franchise restaurant diet, and a kind of ‘appreciation’ of good food is reserved for the wealthy elite who may frequent trendy, nontraditional organic farms.

  8. Never knew Florida tomatoes had such a story. Very good read! In my opinion, No to automatization, and No to illegals. Mechanization has done more to make the White family farm obsolete than Washington and illegals together.

    Also very good point Nagant. This is one spot where I definitely admire the green Left–their co-ops and farmers’ markets are the best, as are their fair trade & local products cafes. Fair trade products may be made by non-Whites, but at least workers are treated fairly, and the strengthened economy makes their homelands more appealing to remain in.

  9. Automation really won’t help Florida’s tomato growers, only the arbitrage made possible by illegal labor keeps this afloat. They’d have to put the land to some other use which might be less optimal from their perspective without being able to push the massive costs of illegal aliens onto others.

  10. Ah, an issue near and dear to my heart.

    Tomatoes are very easy to grow. Those winter tomatoes grown in Florida — are those sold for fresh tomatoes for year round salads? It’d be hard to compete with that. But I could see producing tomato sauce and tomato juice. All we’d need is a processing plant, and crowdsource the production.

    If food prices ever go up, I’m sure google will invest in such a scheme.

  11. old ‘beefsteak’ varieties ripened FULLY on the vine are always the best

    No they’re not. Their large size ensures too much water content and a certain degree of tastelessness. The best garden grown varieties include the Alicante, Pantano Romanesco, orange Hillbilly, Tomaccio, Santorino, Green Zebra, etc.. (all heirloom types.) If you just want a sandwich tomato grow some Brandywines although the not perfectly round shape may offend your supermarket sensibilities.

    There is nothing quite like opening a Bell jar of home grown stewed tomatoes on a snowy winter’s day to bring back aromatic memories of the previous summer’s garden.

  12. Those Hillbilly and Brandywine strains that you mentioned, Rudel, ARE some of those ‘old beefsteak varieties’ that I was referring to! Double-flowered ‘beefsteaks’ have do higher moisture to begin with than the ‘Italian plum’ paste type, but they eventually cook down to a better result.

  13. ‘Tomatoes are very easy to grow’

    …unless phytophthora infestans threatens, and then they suddenly become difficult and expensive to maintain, even the new resistant varieties. The disease is endemic in the Deep South. It dies out over winter here, so we escape it through at least the first month of production.

    unless they

  14. Yes, I lose some tomatoes to some kind of fungus. I took Craig’s advice for next year and built 11 foot high trellising. Looking forward to harvesting tomatoes off a ladder next year.

  15. they eventually cook down to a better result.

    Many Italian cooks would disagree and anyhow you don’t have to only make paste out of Romas if you don’t want to.

  16. I don’t really like tomatoes that much but my late father used to grow some nice ones in our backyard here in southeast Texas.. They tasted much better than the Mexican or Florida swill

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