Bob Ferguson traces his family roots growing asparagus back to the 1930s. “I’ve had a passion for this industry and the crop,” Ferguson said, speaking from his asparagus field on Union Island southwest of Stockton. Ferguson has 162 acres of asparagus ready to harvest. However, this year he is only harvesting 25 acres. Ferguson said it has become hard to compete with “cheaper, lower quality” asparagus imported from other countries like Mexico. It makes it difficult to harvest his entire crop to make a profit. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement wiped out a 25 percent import tariff on asparagus from Mexico. That, coupled with tighter food safety laws in the U.S., higher labor costs with increased minimum wage and tighter pesticide rules, makes the Delta asparagus more expensive to sell. San Joaquin County Farm Bureau executive director Bruce Blodgett says a pound of Mexican asparagus costs around $1.97 in local grocery stores.
Blodgett said it costs double here. He blames not only NAFTA, but the state legislature for passing more laws and regulations that are driving up costs and driving farmers to the brink of closing down production.
“We tried to talk to our state legislature to say this is going to impact a lot of our agricultural industries. A lot of our produce is very labor intensive,” Blodgett said. “And if you draft rules like this that don’t recognize that we are competing with other areas, you’re drafting rules to make us fail.”