Produce industry is still all about relationships

09/06/2013 10:33:00 AM
Tom Stenzel

Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce AssociationTom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce AssociationLast month the United Fresh Produce Association staff and I set out to visit members and host town halls across the country.

We hosted 21 town halls, visited more than 50 members’ facilities, traveled to 15 states, drove some 5,000 miles and flew more than 30,000 miles.

With the Congressional summer recess, August is becoming my favorite month of the year as we travel the country to learn first-hand what’s most important to produce grower-shippers, fresh-cut processors, wholesaler-distributors, and our retail and foodservice customers.

Thanks to all the industry members who hosted town halls and visits! Here’s what we heard from you.

The growing labor crisis

“Who will pick and pack the produce?”

That’s the universal question worrying industry members across the country. We heard it from apple growers in New York concerned about this year’s harvest, Midwest growers desperate for a new ag guest worker program to replace today’s controversial H-2A program, and California shippers facing a shrinking workforce while a vegetable grower in Maine has resorted to recruiting seasonal workers from California, offering free round-trip airfare and lodging.

More than 200 folks packed an immigration rally in Indiana, and our California town halls in Salinas and Visalia saw an energized industry ready to march on Washington at this year’s Washington Public Policy Conference demanding that Congress pass immigration reform.

Labor was also on the minds of processors and wholesalers, and it was rewarding to see that retailers and foodservice friends recognized the importance of this issue to assuring a future produce supply.

Food safety confusion

“We put food safety first in our business, but all the different audits are overwhelming and the proposed FDA rules don’t seem to make sense for my operation.”

From one end of the country to the other, from grower to retailer, food safety is on everyone’s mind.

Despite huge progress on the harmonized GAP audit, I’m frustrated to say that the problem of multiple audits with minor insignificant differences is still plaguing members.

A shipper in Colorado showed us one audit that requires certain data listed top to bottom and another that requires the same data, but listed from bottom to top.

Of course everyone is concerned, and often confused, about how the new FDA rules will apply to them.

With such different growing practices for different commodities, why do the rules feel like one size fits all? Why are simple produce warehouses treated exactly like food manufacturing facilities?


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