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Berry industry heads form coalition amid Biden Administration

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Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Soren Bjorn, President of Driscoll’s of The Americas, discuss what Biden’s trade policy could mean for farmers.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So good to see you, Soren. Thanks for being with us. Tell us a little bit more about this coalition and why this group feels that there should not be limitations put on blueberry imports.

SOREN BJORN: Yeah, so the Trump administration left us with the sort of fight for in the blueberry industry as to whether we should have a free flow of imported blueberries or there should be a restriction on imported blueberries. And the blueberry industry is really made up of sort of two seasons. You actually have the import season in the wintertime, and then you have the domestic season in the summertime.

And that was an attempt to really try to restrict the imports, OK? And that the Trump administration pushed forward. But fortunately, yesterday, the International Trade Commission ruled in our favor. So there won't be any restrictions on import of blueberries.

And we think that's very important, not only for the berry industry, but actually, I think, for our trade relationships in general. I think a lot of foreign governments and a lot of businesses have been quite concerned about America's stance on free trade. And so, frankly, this takes off, I think, a bit of a headache for the Biden administration. So now they do not have to worry about this. And we think that's very good news.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Well, I know that it's-- a berry is a seasonal thing, especially when we're talking about blueberries. So when the US is not producing blueberries, I would imagine that the imported blueberries sort of backfill. So is there a nice sort of give and take, if you will, between domestic and imported blueberry farmers?

SOREN BJORN: Yeah, I mean, for the most part, OK, it's very complementary, you know, that we can get blueberries from Chile in the wintertime and then get blueberries from New Jersey in the summertime and many other places to fill it in. And this fight was really about the few periods of the year in the spring and the fall when the imports and the domestic season overlap.

And that's why this was really a regional complaint from the domestic blueberry industry that was worried about, particularly in the springtime, well, you know, imports from, particularly, Mexico overlap with Florida and Georgia. And that's really where the focus was. But in the end, these two parts of the industry are very complementary. And without it, the industry, including domestically, would be a lot smaller than it is today.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: What segment of the berry industry is growing the most? Is it, indeed, blueberries? And can farmers keep up with the demand?

SOREN BJORN: Well, it is, indeed, blueberries, OK, though blackberries is pretty close in terms of growth rates. Those are the two fruits that have the most antioxidants, OK, that are the therefore the healthiest in consumers' minds. And so therefore, the demand has been rocked tremendously. And the reality is that we, as an industry, have had a difficult time keeping up. And so the demand significantly outstrips the total supply, especially certain times of year when, traditionally, there haven't been a lot of berries available.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: I know that you also entered into an agreement recently with Plenty Unlimited to have this indoor vertical farming company for strawberries. Has that begun yet? And are you looking at expanding that to other berries?

SOREN BJORN: Well, so we only really started the initial phase of that agreement, was, to say, the trial. OK? What we're really trying to see, you know, how good can we make the strawberries. And this is really about two things. It is we're pushing the limit of how much you can delight consumers with berries. The reality is when you grow outdoors, there's a number of compromises you make to deal with the weather and pests and diseases.

When you go indoors and use the Plenty technology, we can give up a lot of those compromises and, instead, focus strictly on the flavor. And so we believe that we are going to be able to deliver consumers, particularly on strawberries, an experience that they have never experienced before. And we're really excited about that.

I think the other part of this is an opportunity to ultimately take berry productions to parts of the world where you really can't grow berries today. And so, our largest export market from the Americas is actually the Middle East. And you're just not going to grow strawberries outside in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. But you can put this Planter technology right there outside Dubai. And we think in the very near future, we're going to be able to grow amazing Driscoll strawberries basically in cities that today would never ever have any fresh strawberry production.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Now that's exciting stuff for sure. All right, Soren Bjorn, president of Driscoll's of the Americas, thanks for being with us.

SOREN BJORN: Thanks for having me.