Move to protect FL. farmers could impact your wallet

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MANATEE COUNTY - The State of Florida is among the top tomato producers in the world.

Farmers here, including several on the Suncoast, are keeping a close eye on the rules surrounding fresh tomato imports.

The Commerce Department is proposing an agreement to keep Mexican farmers from selling its crop in the U.S. market and wants to reset minimum wholesale prices.

Farmers in Manatee and Hillsborough counties produce 40% of tomatoes grown in Florida. Local business owners say a change in tomato-rulings with Mexico will not only help send a boost to the local economy, but could help growers who were forced to close their business get back on their feet.

It's been all about tomatoes for Bob Spencer for the past 20 years. “The beauty of our job is we're creating jobs for Floridians and we are supplying a healthy product to the American consumer,” says Bob Spencer of West Coast Tomato.

But competition with Mexican growers has put a squeeze on success for local growers. “They have continually shipped product in below their cost of production and created a downward effect on the price we can obtain for our product.”

Forcing many local farmers to go out of business. “It's had a negative impact on the economy in Florida because agriculture is the second largest factor in the Florida economy.”

But local growers are excited for a long-awaited change to that, as the Commerce Department announced the U.S. can change trading rules.

There will be a 40 percent increase in the floor price for Mexican farmers. “From $5.80 to $8.30 a box...A 25 pound box.”

Spencer says that will bring hope and help to the American farmer after 15 years of disputes. “The Florida farmers can continue to thrive and give the American consumer American produce grown in a safe and healthy environment and providing a healthy product for our American children and our parents.”

The agreement will be open for public debate until February 11. The Commerce Department estimates it would take effect March 4.