Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Brazil: The Saudi Arabia of Oranges

How Brazil Became the Saudi Arabia of Orange Juice
Florida was king when the tower was built in 1956 and until frost, development, diseases, higher US wages and the growth of the industry in Brazil took hold.

Florida can’t compete with Brazilian juice on price so it has tried to prevent Brazilian citrus from coming into the US. The trade group representing Florida processors has been busy during the last 20 years to put duties on Brazilian juice. They claim that Brazil dumps its orange juice (sells at less than cost of production) and below fair market value since there is no market in Brazil for it. US juice producers are frustrated by the fact that picking and transporting oranges in Florida costs nearly four times as much as it does in Sao Paulo State.

We were once the king of many things. So what, specifically, seems to be the problem with oranges these days?

In Florida Groves, Cheap Labor Means Machines
''The rest of the world hand-picks everything, but their wage rates are a fraction of ours,'' said Galen Brown, who led the mechanical harvesting program at the Florida Department of Citrus until his retirement last year. Lee Simpson, a raisin grape grower in California's San Joaquin Valley, is more blunt. ''The cheap labor,'' he said, ''isn't cheap enough.''

''Mechanical harvesting is the biggest change in the Florida citrus industry since we switched to aluminum ladders,'' said Will Elliott, general manager of Coe-Collier Citrus Harvesting, one of seven commercial contractors that are shaking trunks and brushing canopies around the state.

We continue to automate and/or outsource our workforce. How the typical American worker can keep his standard of living is beyond me. Better still, what are billions of workers going to do to fend off automation?

And there are some beneficiaries among workers: those lucky enough to operate the new gear. Perched in the air-conditioned booth of Mr. Meador's canopy shaker, a jumpy ranchera tune crackling from the radio, Felix Real, a former picker, said he can make up to $120 a day driving the contraption down the rows, about twice as much as he used to make.

Yet many Immokalee workers are nervous. ''They are using the machines on the good groves and leaving us with the scraggly ones,'' said Venancio Torres, an immigrant from Mexico's coastal state of Veracruz who has been picking oranges in Florida for three years.

Mr. Loukonen, the Barron Collier manager, said the farm workers were right to be anxious. ''If there's no demand for labor, supply will end,'' he said. ''They will have to find another place to work, or stay in their country.''

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