Ag labor comes to forefront at advisory committee meeting

03/04/2011 03:41:05 PM
Tom Karst

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee wants the USDA and the Department of Labor to work together in finding labor solutions for agriculture.

That was one key recommendation from the committee, which met Feb. 28 and March 1 in Arlington, Va.

Committee chairwoman Maureen Torrey Marshall, vice president of Torrey Farms Inc., Elba, N.Y., said the group was able to express its concerns to USDA about the current H-2A program.

“Something needs to be done,” she said March 2.

Oscar Gonzalez, the USDA’s deputy director of intergovernmental affairs, gave a presentation to the committee on labor issues, including H-2A, the status of AgJobs reform and known costs associated with health care reform.

Torrey Marshall said the committee considered the potential cost of health care reform on employers.

She praised the willingness of the agency to be an advocate for agriculture.

“The department is taking a very, very active role right now, from the (Agricultural Marketing Service) Administrator right up to the Secretary,” she said.

The committee’s working group on the agency’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program advised the USDA to present a positive image of the grower, no matter if the grower is local or distant.

“Big is as good as small and shipped in is as good as local,” Torrey Marshall said.

In addition, the committee’s purchasing and procurement working group inquired about the food stamp and Women, Infants and Children food packages and the Healthy Incentive Pilot program.

The working group’s concerns focused on the need for nutrition and food preparation education, she said.

Committee member Becky Wilson, assistant vice president of the Tom Lange Co., Springfield, Ill., said the group was passionate about the input they offered.

Bob Keeney, deputy administrator for fruit and vegetable programs for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, said the current committee did much work in their two-year tenure, which will end in March.

“The committee did represent very diverse backgrounds, from small farms to large corporations and everything in between,” Keeney said.

“I was just very impressed with this group this year and look forward to working with them as individuals if not on the new committee in the future.”

Keeney said the AMS will seek to recharter the committee, and news about that could come later this spring or summer.



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