United Fresh chief addresses potato growers conference

09/05/2013 06:14:00 PM
Chris Koger

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, couldn’t help using humor to describe what’s happening — or not happening — in Congress when he spoke to attendees at the Idaho Grower Shippers Association conference.

“Let me just give you five minutes of an update on what’s going on in Washington, D.C.,” Stenzel said Aug. 30, the last of the three-day convention.

“It’s a terrible place,” he said, eliciting laughter. “ … I guess that’s it.”

Stenzel said the polarity in both major political parties is such that the far left and far right factions have more in common than with moderates. This schism led Republican House leaders to split the farm bill’s agricultural and nutrition programs, to focus on cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps).

“There’s very little interest in compromise, very little interest in getting things done for the country, and that’s not just on agricultural issues,” he said.

The farm bill, already extended by Congress, expires Sept. 30. Stenzel said with little time for the Senate and House to hammer out a new one it’s likely the current farm bill will be extended again.

That’s not a worst-case scenario, he said, citing specialty crop programs that don’t fall under the auspices of the farm bill: the fruit and vegetable snack program in schools, Specialty Crop Block Grants, school lunches and numerous research projects, including food safety initiatives.

Ryan Krabill, senior director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the National Potato Council, spoke Aug. 29. Although the split farm bill complicates its passage, Krabill said a “fix” that allows potatoes to be included in feeding programs is included in the nutrition part of the bill.

“We’ve done all the work to get to a point if both (House and Senate) could pass something to get to the conference committee, we are confident that our fix will be in that final piece of legislation,” Krabill said.

Unfortunately, he said, Republicans and Democrats have opposite views about the food stamp budget, and it’s unlikely that a compromise can be reached by the end of September, with only eight legislative days in the month. Instead, Krabill said the bill will probably be extended again, and an updated version approved by the end of the year.

“The agriculture industry in the U.S. needs some sort of solution that will preserve the workforce that is already here,” Krabill said, “and also allow for a better program going forward than your H-2A program, which is a little clunky and slow to respond.”


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