Congressional speakers rally specialty crop producers for the next Farm Bill
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The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, which provides free fruit and vegetable snacks to children in Title I elementary schools, was expanded nationwide in the 2008 Farm Bill. Harkin told conference attendees that maintaining the program's limit to strictly fresh fruit and vegetables is vital for its survival.
“Opening up the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables program to frozen and dried fruit will only weaken the uniqueness of this program,” he said. “Its continued success is far from sure. We must continue to make the case for this program and maintain its focus and uniqueness.”
Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh, said E-Verify is the number one issue for many producers at the conference. Currently a voluntary program that approximately 250,000 employers use to electronically check workers' eligibility, E-Verify will be made mandatory if the House bill is passed into law.
“We have to make sure Congress understands the impact it can have on our industry,” he said. “It's going to devastate our industry. Some states like Georgia have been impacted already.”
Congressman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) spoke at yesterday's session to emphasize the necessity of a guest worker amendment to E-Verify. Although his original amendment was blocked in the House Judiciary Committee, he said that he suspects an E-Verify bill without an “agricultural fix” will not pass the Senate. He said he plans to offer another agricultural guest worker program amendment when the bill next arrives in the House for a vote.
“I understand that [E-Verify] will have a catastrophic impact on agriculture if we don't recognize the tremendous presence of foreign agricultural workers,” he said. “In my discussions, there is not any doubt about the need to address foreign agricultural workers as a condition to pass the legislation.”
Harkin also commented that amending E-Verify is essential for the industry and condemned the delay on an agricultural guest worker subset to the legislation.
“Why can't we carve out that subset? It shouldn't be that complicated,” he said.
For more information about the United Fresh 2011 Washington Public Policy Conference: http://www.unitedfresh.org/programs/wppc/wppc_2011_schedule_details
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