Produce industry leaders were cautiously optimistic April 11 about the prospects for an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

The Agriculture Workforce Coalition continues to work with Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and the United Farm Workers to develop agriculture guest worker provisions in the legislation, said Diane Kurrle, vice president of public affairs with the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va.

“We’re very optimistic what the outcome will be but the work hasn’t finished yet,” she said. “I can say that from U.S. Apple’s standpoint we have been pleased with the process and feel like there has been a good faith effort by everybody involved.”

A staff member for Feinstein, speaking on background, said April 11 that the senator has indicated negotiators are closing in on a deal for wages and cap levels for an agriculture guest worker program.

Negotiations on the agriculture provisions have been intense, said Ray Gilmer, vice president of issues management and communication at United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

Gilmer said April 11 that wage rates and visa cap levels for the agriculture guest worker program have been discussed within the coalition and also with staff and senators in the so-called “Gang of Eight” writing the legislation.

“This is happening so fast that it has been a challenge for everyone on both sides to keep up with the state of negotiations,” he said. “There is definitely a lot of pressure to tie this up and get it done, but the (Agriculture Workforce Coalition) still considers this a work in progress,” Gilmer said.

“We’ve got to see the legislative language,” said Lee Wicker, deputy director of the Vass-based North Carolina Growers Association.

Wicker said April 11 the agricultural guest worker provisions in the legislation were “moving in the right direction” and said he was optimistic for a deal.