Traverse City Record-Eagle: Peters talks Turkey, tariffs

TRAVERSE CITY — Thanksgiving is weeks away, but talk of Turkey dominated a roundtable discussion between U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) and region fruit growers.

More than two dozen growers talked about tariffs, regulations and labor with Peters Friday morning at the Michigan State University Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station.

Peters said a preliminary decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission to put tariffs on tart cherry exports from Turkey is a step toward leveling an uneven playing field.

“America can compete with anybody in the world as long as the rules are fair,” Peters said early in his opening remarks.

But there is also no time to rest.

“I’ve been focused on this; I’ve introduced legislation to get the Commerce Department to be more aggressive in standing up for smaller growers and smaller industries,” Peters said after the event. “Although progress is being made when it comes to direct Turkish imports into the United States, we’re fearful that perhaps some of those cherries are going to Brazil and will continue to have negative effects on growers in Traverse City and we cannot let that happen.”

Peters said staying vigilant is important because the Turks are not always “honorable actors” and may strive to circumvent policy.

“You always feel like you’re playing that old game of whack-a-mole,” Peters said.

That’s why Peters reintroduced bipartisan legislation in February to establish a task force in the U.S. Department of Commerce to investigate trade abuses in the marketplace.

Peters added the U.S. lacks nearly 1,000 agricultural inspectors at the border. He has proposed legislation that would add 240 inspectors every year until the gap is closed. Peters said he has suggested canine units.

“We have to take a more aggressive stance,” he said.

Fruit growers from the region talked to Peters about a host of U.S. regulatory issues.

The bulk of the discussion with Peters focused on the rising costs of audits. According to the United States Department of Agriculture website, audits “verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.”

Dave Meister of Apple Valley Orchards, LLC in Manistee County said he has to get three different audits of his fruit depending on the market. Meister said having one standardized audit would save time and money.

Manistee County farmer Dave Smeltzer said he spent $3,000 on audits last year. Karen Bargy of Bargy Orchards in Antrim County said the price of her audits doubled last year and had a tremendous financial affect on her 20-acre farm.

“As a small grower that’s ridiculous,” she said.

Bargy said larger farms can absorb the cost increase, but Bargy said she is the crew leader, forklift operator and many other roles.

“Every hour I’m not with my crew, that’s dollars lost,” she said.

Peters said he would look into the audit differences, especially when one grower said one of the audits is more stringent than one that OKs food for schools.

“Private industry is asking for a more comprehensive audit than the federal government to feed our children?” Peters asked.

Juliette King-McAlvoy of King Orchards in Antrim County broached the USDA’s organic certification. King-McAvoy said she’s found this certification on imported products, causing consumer confusion.

“I feel like it’s being used dishonestly,” King-McAvoy said.

Reducing costs and easing access to labor concluded the roundtable discussion with Peters.

“We have to have comprehensive immigration reform,” Peters said. “We have to get behind that.”

By:  Mark Urban
Source: Traverse City Record-Eagle