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October 2021, Volume 27, Number 4

Florida, Southeast

Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued a report in August 2021 that blamed rising imports of Mexican fruits and vegetables for reductions of $1.3 billion to $2.6 billion in Florida fruit and vegetable sales. Between 2015 and 2020, the value of fruits and vegetables imported from Mexico rose from $10 billion to $16 billion.

Florida has been losing market share to Mexican imports in bell peppers, blueberries, tomatoes and strawberries between January and June. For example, Florida provided 46 percent of the bell peppers consumed in the US during the first six months of the year in 2000, but by 2020, the Florida share of a larger winter and spring bell pepper market was 12 percent.

A 2021 survey of Florida blueberry growers found that over 80 percent harvest some of their blueberries mechanically, but most use machines only for second and third harvests in order to maximize pack out rates for the first picks that normally yield the highest grower prices.

Florida appeared to be on the road to mechanizing the harvest of oranges in the early 2000s, but mechanization was slowed by the spread of Huanglongbing (HLB) or citrus greening disease that attacks the vascular system of trees and weakens them too much for mechanical harvesting. Most of Florida’s oranges are now picked by H-2A workers. Dwarf trees with limbs trained on trellises could speed efforts to mechanize.

Florida’s bearing citrus acreage dropped from 600,000 acres in 2000 to 550,000 acres in 2010 to less than 400,000 acres in 2021. Florida produced about 53 million boxes of oranges in 2020-21.

The US DOJ charged Los Villatoros Harvesting (LVH) with violations of the H-2A program in September 2021; LVH allegedly forced H-2A workers to work. LVH owner Bladimir Moreno, a legal immigrant from Mexico, was charged with operating LVH as a criminal conspiracy.

North Carolina. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee has 9,400 H-2A members who are brought into the state by the North Carolina Growers Association and deployed on 700 North Carolina farms. FLOC in September 2021 won a federal court injunction that voids provisions of the state’s Farm Act that prohibit farmworker unions from seeking voluntary recognition from agricultural employers as part of a legal settlement, which is how the FLOC-NCGA collective bargaining agreement was established.

The federal judge did not void the Farm Act’s prohibition of dues-checkoff clauses in collective bargaining agreement that allow employers to deduct union dues from wages and forward them to the union. Unions want payroll deductions that are forwarded automatically to stabilize their finances.

North Carolina FLC Jose Garcia Harvesting in May 2021 was required to pay $14,000 in back wages and $5,000 in CMPs for violations of H-2A regulations in 2016 that included not paying workers the required AEWR, charging workers for meals and not providing kitchen facilities, and using H-2A farm workers as cooks and bus drivers. Most of the workers received $300 to $300 in back pay.

South Carolina. E&J Gallo is building a $425 million production and distribution plant on 640 acres near Fort Lawn, South Carolina that is expected to create 425 jobs. Gallo, with sales of over $5 billion a year, employs 7,000 workers, has 19 wineries, and owns 23,000 acres of vineyard. Gallo has 100 wine brands and makes its own bottles, corks, and labels. Gallo will bottle wine in Fort Lawn that is imported in containers via the Charleston port for the 70 percent of US wine drinkers who live east of the Mississippi River.

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