As Ron Midyett becomes chairman of the United Fresh Produce Association, he senses the moment for immigration reform may finally be here.
“We’ve been poised and prepared to jump when the timing is right,” said Midyett, chief executive officer for Guadalupe, Calif.-based Apio Inc.
“It appears that’s now. We’ll be jumping on immigration, and beyond that really focusing on the issues of advocacy and education that are most important to United members.”
The November presidential election may have broken the deadlock on immigration.
“The Republicans got it handed to them,” Midyett said.
“They are stepping back and looking at the demographics. I think they’re saying, ‘Immigration is an issue that perhaps we’re not on the right side of.’ I think they see it as an issue both sides can agree on and move forward.”
Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of United Fresh Produce Association, cautiously agrees.
“You’ve got a different political situation where both liberals and conservatives seem to understand it’s time to get something done,” Stenzel said.
Officials were finalizing immigration reform legislation the week of April 15, which would mandate use of the E-Verify system and outline how undocumented agricultural workers could obtain legal status. Officials were also outlining a new guest worker visa program for agricultural jobs.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to begin a hearing on the bill April 17, but the hearing was postponed until April 19.
The 17-page summary released by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., describes a five-year phase-in period for the E-Verify program. For agricultural employers, the phase-in period would be four years.
This spring as Midyett prepared to lead its board, United Fresh was drafting public comments on the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Keeping members informed and involved as the rules move toward a final form is a high priority for the new chairman.
His experience at Apio already put Midyett in touch with a cross section of the supply chain.
“Apio’s business is in fresh-cut processing, yet I depend on the growing community for all my raw products and we enjoy relationships with distributors, wholesalers, retailers and foodservice operators,” he said.
United Fresh’s attention to the breadth of the supply chain is most evident, Midyett said, in the market segment boards the trade group has put in place in recent years.
They include separate boards for grower-shippers, fresh-cut processors, wholesalers and distributors, and retail and foodservice.
“The original four have been so successful that we’re about to launch two new market boards, one focusing on produce marketing and the second on finance and human resources issues within the produce industry,” he said March 28.
Midyett is a graduate of United Fresh’s Produce Industry Leadership Class 6, 12 years ago.
He joined the United board in 2008 when he became vice chairman of the association’s newly established Fresh-Cut Processor Board.
He later was chairman of that board and then went on to serve as treasurer on the United board.