Tariff loophole could harm South Valley olive growers

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Tulare County farmer John Werner is looking at an uncertain future for olive growers after Bell Carter, the nation's largest canner of table olives, recently terminated contracts with most of its growers.

It's cheaper for the company to import unprocessed olives from places like Spain and Argentina than to buy them locally.

"They can import olives from Spain at $400 a ton. It costs me over $650 to $700 a ton just to pick not to farm and all that other stuff just picking," Werner said.

Last summer European conglomerate Dcoop bought a 20 percent stake in Bell Carter to ship cheaper olives into the U.S. for processing under a loophole allowing the company to avoid paying tariffs on raw olives.

"The Spanish olive industry is subsidized by their government. It'd be like Silicon Valley paying me to farm. That's how they do it," Werner said.

Industry leaders estimate growers stand to lose tens of millions of dollars if the 60 plus million pounds of Tulare County olives do not get harvested this year as a result of the tariff loophole.

"We certainly want our federal lawmakers to identify this loophole that has allowed a Spanish company to purchase into the American olive processing market. That loophole is evaluated and hopefully closed before it can do more damage in other commodity sectors," said Tricia Stever Blattler with the Tulare County Farm Bureau.

Late Tuesday afternoon a processing plant in Tracy announced it was stepping up to help the industry.

Musco Family Olive Company will offer new contracts to California growers.

One farmer told me the announcement is good news, but it could all just be a band-aid for the loophole problem.
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