Florida farmers are struggling to stay above water after losing last year’s crops to COVID-19, and now they say they are competing with foreign suppliers who can offer cheaper produce to our American market.
What You Need To Know
- Shady Oak Farm in Lakeland has produced millions of blueberries over the last 16 years but the Sartori’s said times have changed
- Rising rent prices in Polk County have made it difficult to keep reliable farmers, Thais Sartori says
- The lack in production on many Florida farms has resulted in American consumers buying their produce from Mexico at a cheaper cost
- More Polk County headlines
“I’m from Brazil and my husband is from Portugal,” said blueberry farmer Thais Sartori. “We bought this land five years ago but it’s been a blueberry farm for 16 years; that’s why we wanted this land – all the soil is pure.”
Shady Oak Farm in Lakeland has produced millions of blueberries over the last 16 years but the Sartori’s said times have changed.
“The pandemic has hit us so badly,” said Thais. “We lost the whole crop; it was a nightmare. We kept our expectation really low for this year; we cut costs by not cutting the weeds. We used to [cut] the weeds short to let the crops breathe and get sun but we cannot afford one more year, and I still don’t know what to expect for the next crop.”
The Sartori’s said their 11-acre farm was once worked by dozens of farmers, some of them migrant workers, but they say rising rent prices in Polk County have made it difficult to keep reliable farmers.
“They can’t afford to live here,” said Thais. “They’ve moved to areas where the rent is less so they can take more money back home. It’s hard being a farmer in Florida; I hope we can find some relief.”
The lack in production on many Florida farms has resulted in American consumers buying their produce from Mexico at a cheaper cost. The Florida Department of Agriculture says seasonal crop imports from Mexico have increased 500% nationwide from 2000 to 2019.
“How can I compete my American taxes to Mexico,” asked Thais. “They are just buying the fruit in Mexico and what about us? We have been farming this land, paying taxes here. Paying our employees here for the past 16 years.”
The Sartori family said they used to get $5-$6 per pound, now stores are buying from Mexico at $2-$3 per pound. The USDA has provided some relief for farmers but that, Sartori’s said, is not enough.
“They did help us with payroll last year but we’re still struggling,” said Marcio. “Our three biggest problems are employment costs in Florida, the real estate – to live here is expensive and the fruit that’s coming from Mexico, Peru and other places.”
Marcio said, for the first time, his family is outsourcing thier produce as a means to survival.
“Now, we ill sell to France, Hong Kong and Dubai at a better price,” said Marcio. “They prefer American produce so, we may be able to get up to $9 a pound there. The competition here is tough but not impossible; it will take all the farmers coming together to make a change.”
The Satori’s lifeline, like many farmers is connected to their land. So, they say giving up is not an option.
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