(Aug. 11) The surrender came quietly but as surely as summer.

After spending a dozen years and millions of dollars fighting an ever-larger flood of garlic from China, major U.S. garlic producers have decided to dip their toes in the floodwaters.

California garlic stalwarts Christopher Ranch LLC, Gilroy, and The Garlic Co., Bakersfield, both have plans to import Chinese garlic this season. They say cheap Chinese labor has contributed to drive the wholesale price below break-even levels.

Buyers can grab Chinese garlic at just 40-50 cents per pound wholesale, vs. 60-80 cents per pound for domestic-grown. While U.S. suppliers could always point to a fresher, more pungent product that hasn’t spent a week in a boat, at some point they figured it best to grab a slice of the import market.

Clearly, it was a fight that could not be won. No matter how big a stink was raised by U.S. producers, China could raise a bigger stink — literally. China grows 66% of the world’s garlic, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. produces just 3%.

In the past five years, volume at U.S. category leader Christopher Ranch has declined from 100 million pounds to 70 million. Next year the company may grow only 55 million pounds in the U.S.

But are U.S. producers truly admitting defeat? Not really. In value-added, U.S. firms have the advantage. Peeled, whole garlic is in high demand from chefs. And when it comes to bulk, a move toward handling imports is the sort of adaptation that will help them stay on top of the pile.

Florida and California tomato growers long ago put down roots in Mexico after feeling the bite from south of the border competitors. Ditto for California avocado producers, who now market millions of Michoacan hass.

Same idea for berry and tree fruit producers, who make a second home in the Southern Hemisphere. Even U.S. citrus cooperatives — owned and governed by diverse, proud grower bases — have come to the realization they must be in the import game.

As the spectrum of global trade grows, U.S. firms must position themselves to remain a supplier to the U.S. market, even if it feels like surrender.