NAPLES, Fla. — Issues pressing the produce industry took center stage during the second day of the Joint Tomato Conference.

During his Sept. 7 annual state of the tomato industry talk, Reggie Brown, executive vice president of show co-sponsor the Florida Tomato Exchange, Maitland, gave a rundown of last season’s production.

During the 2010-11 season, which ended in June, Florida tomato growers packed 36.1 million 25-pound equivalent cartons of mature green tomatoes, up from the 27.9 million they packed in 2009-10 but significantly lower than the 50 million cartons the industry typically packs each year during the past decade, Brown said.

He also tackled challenges affecting the tomato industry.

Tomato group asks Florida growers to speak out on labor“E-Verify legislation and a guest worker program are ideas floating around in Congress,” Brown said. “They are a long ways from being successfully passed by either house, but they are a challenge and an opportunity we must pay very careful attention to.

“I challenge any and all of you if have conversations with our political representatives to explain to them the importance of a workforce that will allow us to continue to produce food for America in America by Americans working in the agricultural sector. Without a viable workforce, we will not have a viable and reliable food supply in this country.”

Food safety remained a large theme at this year’s show.

During the Sept. 7 Florida Tomato Institute, which focuses on grower-oriented agronomic information, Barry Gaffney, fruit and vegetable regional administrator for the Division of Fruit and Vegetables at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Tallahassee, discussed mandatory state tomato safety rules.

He said all Florida tomato farms are required to be registered with the state for the 2011-12 season.

“Thanks to each and every one of you, we haven’t had a lot of big problems with our audits,” Gaffney said. “We’ve had some small problems, but 99.9% of them have been taken care of before we finished the audit. You have come a long way on food safety. It’s just as new to us as it is to all of you. It’s a lot of work and costs a lot of money. We applaud you for doing such a good job.”

Brown called attendance strong and said around 430 people registered for the convention, similar to the last year’s attendance.

The conference continues Sept. 8-9.