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Vegetable canning sector faces challenges from imports, tariffs

The president of the Midwest Food Products Association says the U.S. has become a net importer of food, and it’s hurting processors and farmers.

Jason Culotta tells Brownfield the recent announcements of ConAgra’s Bird’s Eye frozen foods plant in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin and the Del Monte canning plant in Markesan, Wisconsin are not the only planned shutdowns. “We have another canning plant that’s being closed in Washington state. A large operation in Delaware as well.”

Culotta says the industry is seeing some slower times, and on the canning side, the real issue has been the cost of the metal can ever since the 2018 beginning of former President Trump’s 20% tariff on foreign steel. “Our industry has been seeking now for six years to get relief for tin plate, which is about 2% of that overall U.S. steel market consumption, and we’ve not been able to make headway.”

Culotta says that tariff has put U.S. producers and processors at a huge disadvantage. “We actually are importing more tinplate steel now than we did previously, about 60% compared to about 40% back in 2018, but we have to pay tariff on our steel can and our foreign competitors do not.”

He says one example is Chinese sweet corn, which is cheaper for U.S. retailers to buy, catapulting sales for the foreign sweet corn by 17-hundred percent… all while  U.S. canners have to import more tin plate cans and cut back on their vegetable crop acres.  Culotta says foreign processors don’t pay the steel tariff, so they are still able to undercut U.S. processors, even after paying shipping costs.

Another area hurting processors is the government’s push for more “fresh” food, which means importing fresh, in-season food from other countries.

Culotta says in Minnesota and Wisconsin, vegetable processors expect to plant about 10% fewer acres this year.

AUDIO: Jason Culotta discusses the challenges faced by the vegetable processors with Brownfield’s Larry Lee

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