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California garlic farmer loves tariffs, but not other growers

Lisa M. Krieger, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

GILROY, Calif. -- California farmers hate President Donald Trump's tariffs. Except maybe one.

Since President Donald Trump imposed a 10 percent tariff on Chinese garlic and other imports, sales have surged for Gilroy's Christopher Ranch –– America's largest producer of fresh garlic.

This past week, the ranch has had so many orders that it's adding overtime work shifts to clean, trim, crack, sort, peel, box and ship the 50,000 extra pounds of premium "California White" bulbs, pulled out of cold storage. Last year, with the market awash with low-price Chinese imports, sales were in a funk.

The turnaround eases years of angst for the ranch in Gilroy, once named "The Garlic Capital of the World."

"We're running at capacity," said Ken Christopher, 33, a third-generation grower at the 60-year-old business.

In the rest of the state, farmers who grow other crops such as cotton, walnuts, almonds and grapes are hurting.

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The trade war started June 15, with Trump's decision to impose tariffs on subsidized Chinese steel and aluminum. China responded by imposing $60 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods, targeting many California-grown products like wine, walnuts, honey and olive oil.

Almost all of Christopher Ranch's garlic gets sold in the U.S. So when the American market was flooded in recent years with cheaper garlic from China, the local product's prices were undercut. The new 15 percent tariff raises the price of Chinese garlic.

But many of California's other crops, in contrast, are exported. All of our cotton is sold overseas. About two-thirds of almonds and 40 percent of walnuts also are sold abroad.

When China responded with its own set of retaliatory tariffs, these products were suddenly more expensive. Chinese suppliers started buying from other nations instead.

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