LAKELAND (FOX 13) - Central Florida is gearing up for one of its signature events - the Florida Strawberry Festival, but behind the scenes, growers are facing some real pressure from south of the border.
Mexico has cheap labor, so American companies are growing strawberries there and shipping them here, threatening to put local farmers out of business.
"It's a little bit of a struggle," strawberry grower Matt Parke told FOX 13 News. "We're fighting with it."
Parke's family has grown strawberries for generations, but he says family farms like his are being driven out by big American companies operating south of the border.
"The reason these American companies go to Mexico is that, it's so much cheaper to farm over there," Parke explained.
He sayslabor costs here are much higher and regulations are tighter.
"I feel like NAFTA needs to leave or they need to renegotiate it," Parke said.
Farmers like Parke say a repeal or renegotiation the North American Free Trade Agreement could protect American berries by putting a tax on imports from Mexico. A few years ago, Parke saw the market flooded with Mexican berries.
"You go to Walmart in Plant City and they have Mexican berries! In plant City!" Parke said. "And we're over here like, 'Hey! We're struggling.'"
Behind the scenes, they're fighting for their farms as they get ready to celebrate the Strawberry Festival, which opens Thursday, March 2 and runs through Sunday March 12.