(UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 17) PLANT CITY, Fla. — Strawberry growers should prepare to fight E-Verify again.
Though E-Verify legislation failed in the most recent Florida legislative session, growers and shippers attending the Aug. 16 Florida Strawberry Growers Association’s Agritech 2011 learned they should expect backers to reintroduce of the bill next year in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. Michael Carlton, director of the labor relations division of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, said Florida came “very close” to passing E-Verify. He said heavy business community opposition as well as members of Hispanic families who lined the Capitol hallways helped show lawmakers the bill’s potential affect on the state’s economy.
“I think there’s every reason for us to believe an E-Verify bill will be reintroduced in the next session which starts in January, though it’s possible they may get distracted by redistricting,” Carlton said. “Though the Georgia and Alabama experience may help us make our case, there are still those in the Legislature who remain adamant that we need an E-Verify system in Florida. Depending how emotions go, we are concerned how it could move forward. I’m not sure we have the same scenario where we could defeat it this year.”
Ted Campbell, the Dover-based association’s executive director, said growers need to pay attention to the issue.
“This issue of E-Verify is one of the most threatening issues we have now,” Campbell said. “You think we had a big problem with fumigation? We can find alternatives to other things, but if we lose labor, we are really in big trouble.”
Campbell said produce industry associations are working diligently with other ally interests to assure agriculture survives any legislative passage.
Sue Harrell, the association’s director of marketing, discussed the group’s marketing strategy.
“We are communicating the product’s benefits,” she said. “Strawberries have not really changed their nutrition value, but the problem is getting the information out to the consumers and letting them know about the benefits. Everyone’s focused on nutrition these days and making their dollar in the grocery store really count.”
In its 29th year, the show attracted more than 300 participants, similar to last year’s, Harrell said.
Growers also heard about research and variety investments and ways they can use less water to prevent their crops from freezing during the winter.