Statewide tour shows industry concerns

03/29/2013 08:57:00 AM
Tom Stenzel

Tom Stenzel, Produce Marketing AssociationTom Stenzel, Produce Marketing AssociationWhen I conclude a trip like our recent California Fresh Impact Tour, I think I must have the best job among the thousands of associations based in Washington, D.C.

I occasionally get to go on the road and spend time with the most passionate people I know, committed to growing and marketing fresh produce to consumers around the world.

As I drove 1,574 miles up and down the state of California, I visited 22 cities; hosted eight town halls; participated in the California Grape & Tree Fruit League annual meeting; and finally joined a closing celebration in San Diego, with the hosts of the United Fresh Horizons convention in May.

I had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of growers of different commodities, service providers to our industry, value-added fresh processors, wholesalers, retailers and foodservice operators.

At every stop, I learned first hand what’s most important to our members today, and will carry those insights back into our government relations program in Washington, D.C., our educational programs at upcoming conferences, and our networking events bringing our supply chain partners together to grow the fresh produce business.

In the grower community there’s no question that the No. 1 issue I heard was the shortage of labor and critical need for immigration reform.

Growers told me again and again how difficult it is to find workers today, and their concerns for the future as our agricultural work force is aging without being replenished.

As I talked about our current negotiations with members of Congress to develop legislation leading to real immigration reform, growers listened carefully and tried to be optimistic.

Yet after so many years of hard, but futile, efforts, I understood their skepticism as well.

We’ve worked on this so long, and can anyone really see Congress addressing a tough controversial issue like this? But I do see a change coming.

Over the past several months, we’ve been working with diverse leaders such as Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Repupblican Sen. Marco Rubio to try to develop legislative solutions specifically for agriculture.

These leaders and many others in the House and Senate are reaching out beyond their comfort zones because they know our nation — and our industry — has a problem that must be solved.

So, I have to believe we have a shot at getting this done — the best shot in many years.

As I traveled from Bakersfield north to Sacramento, then San Francisco south to San Diego, the new food safety regulations proposed by the Food and Drug Administration to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act rose to a close second in concern.


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