Great bulbs o’ garlic! Tariffs hurt most farmers… but they’re great for garlic growers

American garlic growers, who have struggled to deal with China’s century-long hold on the garlic market, believe the tariffs will actually give them an advantage.

October 12, 2018

Tariffs have become a multibillion-dollar dilemma for most American farmers, who recently lost most of their foreign business in the ongoing trade dispute (the USDA’s $5B apology note likely won’t fix things).

But for American garlic growers, this escalating trade battle is just a short chapter in a 25-year-long global garlic war — and these recent tariffs are the long-awaited answer to their garlicky grievances.

Land of the free, home of the bulb

Americans’ passion for garlic fries makes the US the largest importer of garlic in the world — spending $306m on 339m pounds of fresh and dried garlic last year.

Most of America’s garlic comes from China, the world’s greatest garlic grower — producing 80% of the world’s garlic supply.

But it wasn’t always like this: America grew most of its own garlic until the mid-’90s, and only became a net importer of garlic in 1998. So, what happened to America’s garlic glory days?

The Great Garlic War

Between 1992 and 2000, China’s garlic exports tripled, flooding global markets and undercutting US growers. To protect American farmers, the government imposed a 377% tax on Chinese garlic imports in 1994.

But, garlic grifters found ways around the tax (through third countries and “like” shipments) — and Chinese imports continued to increase.

Over the past 20 years, illegal Chinese garlic has decimated the American garlic industry, cutting the number of major producers from 12 down to 3. But farmers expect the new 10% tariff to finally weed out the grimy garlic.

What does this mean for your spice cabinet?

Today, a 30-pound carton of Chinese garlic sells for $38, while its American alternative costs $68. But while the tariffs will benefit US garlic farmers, they could also increase the price of garlic for Americans — unless the US supply increases.

Christopher Ranch, America’s largest garlic company, is freezing the price of 100m pounds of garlic as it increases acreage to feed garlic-craving Americans — who consume, on average, 2 pounds of the stanky spice every year.

But don’t feel too bad for Chinese garlic growers: The average garlic guzzler in China (the world’s largest consumer of garlic) eats 31.5 pounds of the savory bulb in a year.

[Update: This post was updated to include comments from Ken Christopher, third generation garlic farmer and Executive Vice President of Christopher Ranch.]

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