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CNN Today

Produce Overproduction Squeezing Farmers

Aired July 20, 2000 - 1:38 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: If you hate to see food go to waste, you're not going to like this next story. A major cannery has gone belly-up, and that means tons of tomatoes, peaches and pears could be left rotting.

CNN's Rusty Dornin takes a look now at what this could mean to farmers and to consumers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tomato farmer Mark Cooley and his family are ready to harvest 900 acres of tomatoes, only they can't find any buyers.

MARK COOLEY, TOMATO FARMER: I called six canneries and nobody wants them.

DORNIN: For years, the Cooleys and hundreds of other farmers have sold their produce to Tri Valley Growers, one of the nation's largest farmer cooperatives that cans produce. The cannery declared bankruptcy this month. Now the Cooleys alone stand to lose $1 million. The financially-troubled co-op blames the overproduction of tomatoes and other fruits and says it can't find a market for all of them.

(on camera): While many farmers are desperately trying to find a place to sell their crops, they're continuing to irrigate and put money into these fields. But in the end, there may be only one option.

COOLEY: We come in with a big flat roller, 30 feet wide, we roll them, we come in with a big disk and we disk them. That's it, done gone.

DORNIN (voice-over): Half of the peaches canned in the U.S. are processed by Tri Valley Growers. The peach industry has tried to avoid overproduction, but farmers like Dan and Jeff Stephens may have to bulldoze acres of their orchards to help cut the glut and keep prices up.

JEFF STEPHENS, PEACH GROWER: If we do take trees out of the ground for next year, we don't know what to plant, because there is not a commodity out there that is very profitable at this time. DORNIN: Farmers say the co-op's possible collapse comes at a time when worldwide competition makes it tough to find room in the domestic market.

STEPHENS: They're able to land them here on our West Coast cheaper than we can afford to put them in the can and can them.

DORNIN: Consumers may not see changes at the checkout stand from the current upheaval, but pear grower Dave Elliot says now is the time for farmers to change their strategies.

DAVE ELLIOT, PEAR GROWER: We may try to grow less tonnage and just larger pears.

DORNIN: For growers like the Cooleys, if the bankrupt co-op shuts its doors for good:

COOLEY: Well, we'll be done. We won't be farming anymore.

DORNIN: Their crop won't be the only thing left hanging on the vine.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Dixon, California.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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