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Beware the Mexican strawberries?

By J.J. Jackson
web posted August 22, 2011

I get into a lot arguments with conservatives over very non-conservative causes they believe in.  For some reason there are just some conservatives who do not have a problem with certain unconstitutional acts. And just like liberals do, they all sorts of ways to justify their support for said heinous things.  You know, like how Ron Paul finds ways to justify requesting earmarks for his district while simultaneously claiming to be against earmarks.

One of these non-conservative things that conservatives seem often to hold dear are farm subsidies.  Of course there is no constitutional authority for such programs.  But still I am told often as a matter of fact by "conservative" people that these subsidies are needed and that farmers cannot live without them.  According to the standard line these subsidies provide price stability for consumers and prevent our food supply from becoming beholden to foreign suppliers.  They want to believe the laws of economics can be violated at will on the issue of paying farmers bonuses for acting the way the government wants them to act or subsidize said farmers to compensate them for the harsh effects of silly and senseless regulations previously passed by government and which are eating away at their normal profits.

Farm subsidies are a major taboo for some conservatives.  Much like ending Welfare is taboo for liberals.  Those that defend either however simply are not thinking rationally.

Farm subsidies go mostly to only certain crops and activities and mostly to a very select few "farmers" which tend to be huge corporate entities.  Not that there is anything wrong with corporate farms mind you.  Although some people have an irrational fear of them.  Now, these farm subsides include, from highest to lowest in 2010: corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, rice, sorghum, livestock, tobacco (something government claims to hate and get rid of), peanuts, barley, the dairy industry, sunflowers, canola, oat, wool, flax and "trees"[1].  There are also huge payments made to programs for disaster relief and conservation as well as wetlands preservation.

Recently one of my conservative friends, who like many conservatives needs to research their arguments in support of silly programs like farm subsidies better, recently ranted and raved about how without farm subsidies we would be outsourcing our produce to China.  He said that if I thought it was bad now, with strawberries overflowing on our store shelves from Mexico, wait until we stopped subsidizing farmers.

Of course my IBD (Internal Bunk Detector) went off immediately.  I tried to point out, without the exact numbers at hand, how this was simply wrong knowing full well that the last time I looked at strawberries at my local grocer they were all from California.  He however, continued to disagree.  Nope, Mexican strawberries, he said, were a real threat and overwhelming us.  On top of this recent exchange, I get emails every week from "conservatives" defending farm subsidies and that "90% of our strawberries come from Mexico."  I don't know where this claim comes from.  A simple web search resulted in no rambling conspiracy theories on the topic.  But it has apparently been engrained deeply into the brains of some people none-the-less. 

So I decided to go and do the research for all of you out there specifically with regards to strawberries because I hear this particular fruit come up a lot in the discussion of this insane topic of farm subsidies.  I decided to write this article to put the issue to rest.  Please note, I went right to the USDA's website to get the following information.  This is not made up.  This is actual data with no emotions clouding it.  See all footnotes included.

In 2009, the most recent year for which data is available, the United States produced 2,801.3 million pounds of strawberries [2].  This is both fresh and processed versions of the fruit.  It is a total.  Also in 2009 the United States imported 357.46 million pounds of the fruit [3], [4].  Of those total imports 307.39 million pounds came from Mexico [4].

So what does this mean?  Well, it means that when you account for all the total strawberry supply in the United States (what we produce ourselves and what we import) the percentage of those strawberries which are Mexican strawberries is just 9.7%.  That "90% of our strawberries come from Mexico" claim is actually so far off it is not even funny.  In fact, it is just about 90% (86% to be exact) of our imports only which come from Mexico.

Yeah, a little omission there in the argument!  Seems to me there is not some big crisis of Mexican strawberries overrunning American markets.

In fact the United States is the world's largest producer of strawberries [5].  Mexico is a distant, very distant, like Tim Pawlenty in the Ames straw poll distant, third.

Now, here is another dirty little secret that conservatives who bring up the dreaded Mexican strawberry crisis as the reason why farm subsidies should be continued will not like one bit.  Are you ready?  Strawberry growers in the United States do not receive farm subsidies [6].  Not only that, they are not eligible for bailouts and disaster recovery money either.  This is all as of last year.

Go ahead.  Pick your jaw up off the floor all you conservatives that support farm subsidies as the only way farmers in the United States can compete with cheap food from foreign countries.

The strawberry market is actually proof that you do not need farm subsidies to compete.

Oops!  Never mind!  Right?  Truth; the other white meat. ESR


[1] http://farm.ewg.org/region.php?fips=00000&progcode=total&yr=2010
[2] http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/ers/95003/table01.xls
[3] http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/ers/95003/table14.xls
[4] http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/ers/95003/table15.xls
[5] http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/ers/95003/table16.xls
[6] http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/usda/ers/95003/table20.xls
[7] http://digitaljournal.com/article/289823

J.J. Jackson is a libertarian conservative author from Pittsburgh, PA who has been writing and promoting individual liberty since 1993 and is President of Land of the Free Studios, Inc. He is the Pittsburgh Conservative Examiner for Examiner.com.  He is also the owner of The Right Things - Conservative T-shirts & Gifts. His weekly commentary along with exclusives not available anywhere else can be found at http://www.libertyreborn.com.


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