WASHINGTON, Oct. 5- Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) spoke at the United Fresh Produce Association’s 2011 Washington Public Policy Conference yesterday before meeting with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to deliberate final budget recommendations for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. He and other Congressmen and women at the Conference put an emphasis on defending the specialty crop title of the Farm Bill and reducing regulations for the industry.   
Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said the committee is attempting to prevent pesticide over-regulation, particularly from the Environmental Protections Agency, on the fresh fruit and vegetable industry at this morning’s breakfast keynote session.
“They’re not basing all their recommendations on best science,” Lucas said. “Their recommendations are far from economically feasible.”
The specialty crop title was first included in the 2008 Farm Bill with approximately $3 billion for the industry, including specialty crop block grants and the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program. Leaders in United Fresh spoke to conference attendees about defending their title for the 2012 Farm Bill.
“This is not the year to ask for more money, this is the year to protect what we have,” said vice president of nutrition and health for United Fresh, Lorelei DiSogra. 
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said he expects strong leadership under Chairman Stabenow for the specialty crop title in the 2012 Farm Bill. Harkin, who wrote the original Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, gave Tuesday’s keynote address to more than 500 produce business leaders from 35 states. Calling the program “low-hanging fruit,” he warned that members of the Super Committee are likely to look to it for cuts. 
“The agriculture committee under Stabenow is sending recommendations to this committee very shortly,” he said. “We have to make sure this program is highlighted as one not to be cut. Hopefully some in the House Committee will push for the same thing.”

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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