Driscoll’s, the largest berry producer in the world, now grows about the same quantity of raspberries and strawberries in Mexico as it does in California. Many American producers have recently expanded their production to Mexico.
Garland Reiter is one of the people behind the rise in imported food from Mexico.
His family has been growing strawberries in California for generations and selling them under the name Driscoll’s. Today, it’s the biggest berry producer in the world.
In the early 1990s, the Reiter family started growing strawberries and raspberries in Mexico, in addition to California. It found regions in Mexico where the climate allowed them to grow the fruit — especially raspberries — during seasons of the year when it hadn’t been feasible back home. “Our move really was for year-round product, and quality,” says Reiter, who is executive chairman of Reiter Affiliated Cos.
The North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect at that same time, in 1994. But that’s coincidence, Reiter says; NAFTA had very little to do with the move into Mexico. “To tell you the truth, we paid minimal attention to that,” he says.
Many U.S. fruit and vegetable growers have made the same move over the past two decades. They’ve all done it to expand their growing season, and also to cut costs. Farmworkers in Mexico get paid very little, compared with workers in the U.S.
Reiter says that when he got to Mexico and met his Mexican partners, he discovered another reason to locate there. “They’re farmers. They want to be farmers. That is their industry,” he says. There’s excitement about new fruit varieties, and new methods of growing crops.
Since 1992, raspberry exports from Mexico to the U.S. have gone from zero to $500 million each year. The increase in strawberry exports is similar. Total Mexican shipments of fruits and vegetables to the U.S. have increased by nine times over the last 25 years, to $12 billion a year. People in the industry say most of that increase is a result of U.S. companies setting up production in Mexico.
President Trump’s criticism of trade with Mexico has unsettled the industry. He has talked about possibly taxing imports from Mexico or renegotiating NAFTA. Mexican officials have threatened to retaliate against American exports.