Citrus packing house
Citrus fruit is packed. California Citrus Mutual says producers have taken a heavy hit from China's retaliatory tariffs.

Calif. farm groups say mitigation measures fall short

Western Growers, California Citrus Mutual say aid package won't go far enough to offset economic losses from trade disputes.

Farm groups representing California and Arizona produce growers say the USDA's package of assistance to aid farmers hit by retaliatory tariffs won't go nearly far enough to offset their economic losses.

Western Growers president and chief executive officer Tom Nassif says the USDA's efforts "will fall substantially short of making fruit, vegetable and tree nut farmers whole for the damages they have incurred, and will continue to incur, as a result of the trade war with China."

Nassif says fresh produce growers never expected the mitigation plan to fully make up for lost trade revenues and market shares. He notes that a recent study by University of California-Davis economists found that the direct trade losses for U.S. fruit, vegetable and tree nuts growers conservatively top $2.6 billion. When the price impacts on the domestic market are considered, the magnitude of damage exceeds $3.3 billion, he says.

"These figures only represent the immediate consequences; the longer term effects will be much more catastrophic, and potentially permanent," Nassif says. "While our fresh produce is the highest quality in the world, farmers in competing countries can and will fill the vacuum created by the trade war. Once China and other export markets find replacement suppliers, it will be extremely difficult to dislodge them."

Likewise, California Citrus Mutual reiterates concerns the group has voiced earlier that the mitigation measures won't really work for the benefit of specialty crop industries in general or citrus growers in particular. Exports of lemons and navel and Valencia oranges to China were dramatically affected in May and June as the Asian nation retaliated for two rounds of tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump, CCM explains on its website.

China tariffs hit citrus

China imposed additional tariffs of 15 percent in April and another 25 percent  in July on U.S. fresh citrus, raising the landing price for the fruit from 11 percent before the dispute to 51 percent. As a result of higher tariffs, California's citrus industry exported only half its normal tonnage in May and barely matched last year's tonnage exported in June in a market that was expected to expand, according to CCM.

While the China situation has received most of the attention, disputes with Mexico, Canada, Turkey, and the European Union also contribute to sleepless nights for many commodity leaders in California, the organization notes.

For its part, the California Farm Bureau Federation earlier this month held two more media events with the group Farmers for Free Trade to urge an end to the disputes. The events in Fresno and Bakersfield mirrored a gathering held in Lodi in April, where CFBF president Jamie Johansson and others warned that China's retaliatory tariffs were already having a negative effect on California producers. Farmers for Free Trade is a new national advocacy group headed by former U.S. Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

Both Citrus Mutual and Western Growers say they submitted suggestions to the Trump administration for easing the burden that the trade disputes are having on farmers, but that few of their suggestions made it into the USDA's mitigation plan.

Farm groups say the best solution for growers would be to resolve the disputes.

"Time is of the essence," Nassif says, "and only one outcome will preserve our family farms: a rapid and successful conclusion of our trade conflicts and the restoration of commerce between American farmers and buyers across the globe.”

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