Farm labor and immigration reform have been the hot-button topics for Tom Stenzel during the “Fresh Impact” tour of California.
The tour is March 13 to March 26, with stops at produce-related companies throughout the supply chain.
Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., said March 20 he just finished the Santa Maria town hall meeting at Windset Farms, with meetings scheduled March 21 in Oxnard and March 22 in Los Angeles at the wholesale market and later at a luncheon in San Bernadino.
The United Fresh tour began in Delano with a luncheon with United Fresh chairman David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus; it ends March 26 in San Diego.
While new food safety rules and the languishing farm bill drew questions, Stenzel said immigration reform is the key issue for California industry leaders.
“I think labor is clearly number one,” he said.
United Fresh and other key voices for American agriculture are engaged in discussions with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., trying to work out the solution for agriculture, he said.
Stenzel said agriculture is even more united in the current push toward immigration reform than it was for AgJobs legislation, which was produced from a compromise between agriculture and farm labor interests in 2000.
“AgJobs was more of a fruit and vegetable solution ten years ago, but now we’ve got the dairy industry, we’ve got the Farm Bureau and everyone on board,” he said.
Stenzel said that many key elements of the AgJobs legislation are a part of the new reform, including finding legal status for current undocumented workers and creating a workable guest worker program.
New food safety regulations were also a big topic of discussion on the tour, he said.
“People want to know how it is going to affect them,” Stenzel said.
The regulations won’t have an immediate effect, he said, but the industry will be engaged with dialogue with the Food and Drug Administration for a couple of years.
“What I’m trying to tell people that this is a huge change, the first change in food safety law in more than 50 years and it is not going to happen overnight,” he said. “But we as an industry have got to make sure that we understand what they are proposing and what it would do to the industry.”
Stenzel said the May 14-16 United Fresh Show in San Diego is also generating a buzz among California produce marketers. Registration numbers and exhibits are up from last year, and he said industry leaders in California are pleased with the speakers and programming for the meeting.
The United Fresh California tour was unusual for the number of stops, he said.
The associaiton had town hall meetings in other regions of the U.S. in recent years, including tours in the Northeast and the Southeast.
“We do 10 to 12 town hall meetings every year, but this is a little different to do ten of them in a row and all of them in California,” Stenzel said.
Stenzel said he will attend the California Grape & Tree Fruit League annual convention in Laguna Niguel March 23-24. The final meeting of the Fresh Impact tour will be in San Diego on March 26, with a social gathering planned near the convention center, he said.