Over 400 representatives of the produce industry from across the country and beyond visited with members of Congress during the last week of September.  The visits were part of the International Fresh Produce Association’s (IFPA –formerly the United Fresh Produce Association) annual Washington Conference designed to both update industry representatives on the current issues and to present the views of the industry on those key issues to government officials.  PVGA Executive Director William Troxell represented PVGA at the event.

The top issue on the agenda was Immigration Reform.  While the House passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act last year, the Senate has not yet addressed the issue although Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) are working on drafting a bi-partisan ag workforce bill, they have not to date introduced a bill.  Relatively few legislative days remain before the current session of Congress ends this year.  The key points that IFPA stressed are the need for a streamlined H-2A-like guestworker program that involves less red tape for growers with the elimination or capping of the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) and a pathway for falsely documented agriculture workers with otherwise clean records already in the US to earn legal status to continue as agricultural workers in the US.  While opponents of immigration reform often stress the need to first secure the border, it was pointed out that establishing a workable guestworker program that allows workers to legally come to the U.S. to work in agriculture and periodically return home would reduce the incentive for them to attempt to gain entry illegally.

The second issue industry visitors to Congress addressed was the importance of maintaining the specialty crop provisions in the Farm Bill when it is re-authorized next year.  The Farm Bill represents the largest investment of federal resources with approximately $800 million allocated annually to programs that help the competitiveness of the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry in the global marketplace. Key programs for specialty crops include market access programs, nutrition priorities, organics, targeted research, addressing pest and disease challenges (the Specialty Crop Research Initiative or SCRI), state and local market development grants (like the Specialty Crop Block Grants or SCBG), and urban agriculture.

The last day of the Washington Conference coincided with the opening of the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger and Health – the first such White House conference to address these issues in 52 years.  Given that 9 out of 10 Americans do not meet the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans fruit and vegetable consumption recommendations and that 74% of adults in America are overweight or obese, IFPA was encouraged that the White House Conference was supporting six of the eight IFPA federal policy recommendations to help increase access and consumption of fruits and vegetables by 2030.  Among them was support for the movement to encourage medical professionals to “prescribe” consumption of additional fruits and vegetable to their patients who would benefit from such dietary modifications.

Finally, IFPA urged members of Congress to encourage the Food and Drug Administration to elevate, consolidate and streamline its food regulatory responsibilities by appointing a Deputy Commissioner for Foods.  Currently, the FDA’s food regulatory activities are carried out by different parts of the agency that historically have not always coordinated their policies and actions.