The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst on Nov. 16 chatted with Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.
10:30 a.m. Tom Karst: This is an active time in Washington. What do you hear from the ag committee leaders and the farm bill they are putting together for the supercommittee?
10:31 a.m. Tom Stenzel: This farm bill process is different than anything we have ever seen before. There are certainly good reasons why the committee leaders are trying to do it. We think we can get better farm bill funding and policy right now than waiting and going through a year from now.
We have been pretty pleased where they are on specialty crops. Nothing is final until it is over, but we feel pretty good that they are holding the line with (funding for) the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, state block grants, the school snack program — all the basic priorities we have outlined. So we are not the holdup.
The real challenge they are facing right now is Title I and the commodity provisions and I wouldn’t bet strongly they are going to resolve all those issues right now. We would like to see it done — I think everybody in the fruit and vegetable world would. We are not the problem and don’t know if we are going to see the whole thing resolved.
10:41 a.m. Karst: Immigration brings out the frank discussions among people in the industry. Jim Allen just recently wrote a column published on Fresh Talk about how frustrating it is to try to get progress on that issue. Is that a growing source of frustration in the industry?
10:42 am. Stenzel: I don’t know if (the frustration) can get any higher, if it can grow any more than it already has. Immigration has been a terrible issue, with rhetoric on both sides. The anti-immigration mood in the country has led some politicians just to play to that. It is irresponsible and not intellectually sound. Our industry needs to hold candidates accountable for this issue.
So you may like a particular congressman on nine out of 10 other issues, but if all they are doing is pandering on immigration and the anti-immigrant mood, if they are not listening to the real problem out the industry about the workforce, then I think we have to hold them accountable.