Cancel OK

Blueberry coalition makes its case for imports

As blueberry popularity has exploded in the U.S., a group of U.S. growers say imports are threatening their profitability.

The International Trade Commission started an investigation last fall looking into that threat, and a hearing is set for Jan. 12.

One of those speaking on behalf of blueberry importers will be Joe Barsi, President of California Giant Farms BB #:121061 of Watsonville, CA, and also a founding member of the Blueberry Coalition for Progress and Health. He’ll be joined by fellow speakers and coalition members, Dave Jackson co-owner of Family Tree Farms BB #:169364 and Soren Bjorn, president of Driscoll’s, Inc. BB #:116044

Barsi said the group of domestic blueberry companies and foreign exporters got together to protect blueberry imports and grow the blueberry market in the U.S.

“We had to become an organized group with competitors and different stakeholders,” he said Jan. 7.

“Blueberries are so unique in that it’s so fragmented. Our coalition feels like we’re all in it together to grow the industry and keep growers profitable.”

He said the coalition’s investigation finds that imports do not damage domestic producers, who supply the U.S. market for 20 to 30 weeks a year.

Barsi said the domestic growers, which formed their own group called the American Blueberry Growers Alliance, have to prove to the ITC that they’ve suffered unemployment or under employment; the closing of factories or production; and a lack of capital, all due to unfair imports.

He said none of these are happening, as blueberry growers constantly seek more labor and they’re investing in and increasing production across the country.

“The lowest prices of the year are when there are no imports, in the summer,” he said.

Barsi said his company’s retail customers are reluctant to choose sides, but they see blueberries as a huge growth area, and they’re the ones that asked suppliers for year-round product, which led many to partner with growers in other countries.

“Some retailers are selling more blueberries [in dollars not volume] than strawberries,” he said.

Post hearing briefs are due a week after the Jan. 12 hearing, and a public vote is scheduled for Feb. 11 to determine if there’s injury to domestic growers.

If injury is determined, more hearings are scheduled for February with a public vote on the remedy scheduled March 19. The ITC would then send a determination to the president by March 29, and the president has a May 27 deadline for a decision.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services