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Congressman Fred Upton visits struggling southwest Michigan farmers

(WNDU)
Published: Jul. 2, 2019 at 5:57 PM EDT
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U.S. Rep. Fred Upton has returned home to southwest Michigan to hear from farmers about the challenges they're facing because of the weather this year.

“Right now, I'm standing in front of a bunch of tomato plants that should've been in the field probably a week ago,” said Fred Leitz of Leitz Farms LLC in Sodus.

A polar vortex wiped out crops across the Midwest during the winter months, and now, the constant rain has made for yet another difficult year for growers.

“We've never had a year like this, which is why we need a disaster declaration,” Upton said. “I expect the [United States Department of Agriculture] to do that. My call this morning is hopefully going to help prompt them to react.”

Farmers in the region are planting their fields two or three weeks late. Because of this, they risk a frost in the fall freezing their crops, and their harvest will overlap with growers in other states. Therefore, they'll have to compete with those growers and with their biggest competitor: Mexico.

“Mexico dictates what the prices of vegetables are in the United States,” said Russell Costanza of Russell Costanza Farms in Sodus. “They own the market, they're here 365 days a year. I'm in season here about 110 days. This year, it'll be about 90 to 95 days.”

Not only does Mexico produce crops year-round but their produce is cheaper because of their cost of labor.

“Other countries like Mexico are paying less than $10 a day, and we're paying $16 an hour,” Leitz said.

So, how can the community help support our farmers? The answer is simple.

“Buy local. Buy U.S. product,” Costanza said. “We developed the market, we grew the market. The American grower did that, and because of the profitability of a cheap box of tomatoes from somewhere else in the world, they're ignoring us now? Hell, no.”

Upton and other members of the Michigan delegation have put in calls to the USDA to ask for a disaster declaration.

Upton also supported a supplemental bill President Donald Trump signed to appropriate $3 billion for agriculture.