U.S. asparagus plays second string to imports

A food processor says its unfortunate retailers use some American-grown crops as a placeholder for imports.

CEO of Michigan Freeze Pack Tom Brian tells Brownfield additional imports are especially noticeable this year with the cost of shipping down nearly 80 percent.  When there’s a logistics issue, he gets calls for product.

“We have a very efficient transportation system in the United States—if there’s a hiccup with the offshore product coming in, then we get the phone call and those customers start pulling their product,” he shares.

Even though Michigan asparagus can be picked, processed, and delivered to retailers in a matter of days, he says labor costs make the U.S. uncompetitive.

“With the pressures of importers—the asparagus program here, when I first started, we had about 120 people facilitating the asparagus pack,” he says.  “Now we have it leaned down to 35 people and we’re doing the same amount of product.”

Brian says the facility plans to continue to implement automation to reduce labor costs but retailer prices will ultimately decide how long they can process asparagus.

The USDA says while Americans are consuming more asparagus, nearly 90 percent of the crop is imported from Mexico and Peru, and U.S. production continues to decline annually.

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