July 2, 2009

In Today's Issue:

Climate Change Bill Passes House While USDA Engages Agriculture

Global WarmingIn a landmark move Friday, the House passed a sweeping climate change bill (H.R. 2454) on a razor-thin 219-212 vote. The legislation now moves to the Senate where it is likely to be marked up in committee before the month-long August recess.

The legislation is intended to reduce carbon-intensive greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels. It will impose caps on large GHG emitters, thereby forcing them to employ new technologies to reduce those emissions, or buy offsets from clean industries. Agriculture is one the potential sources of carbon offsets.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) was able to amend the bill with a number of key provisions for agriculture. First, agriculture is exempt from becoming a "capped" sector that would be subject to the same reduction commitments as power plants and petroleum refineries. Second, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will have primary authority for administering the carbon offsets program, instead of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Also, Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) was able to insert a provision in the bill that provides $1 billion over ten years for an incentive program to assist agriculture industry members that may be unable to benefit from the current carbon offset program, including fruits and vegetables, in employing future carbon-sequestration technology and practices.

"While we appreciate the work by the House Agriculture Committee and Congressman Cardoza for negotiating a better set of circumstances for agriculture under this bill, we continue to have concerns about direct impact and potential long-term benefits this legislation will have for fruits and vegetables companies," said Kam Quarles, Vice President of Government Relations/Legislative Affairs. "The fact remains that we currently have 3 million acres of permanent tree crops (fruits, nuts, vines) planted in this country that are contributing to carbon sequestration and improving the environment who will not receive any credit under this bill. In addition, the current biomass definition from the legislation gives little hope for our row crop members to take advantage of new programs that have been established for climate change. Once the Senate marks up its bill, it will further clarify some of those answers."

Following the House action, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack invited agriculture interest groups to USDA to discuss the Administration's views on climate change. During the meeting, United Fresh raised the issue of the unique nature of the fresh produce industry and some of the challenges we face in the climate change debate.

"It is critical for USDA to establish some concrete analysis that shows the tangible benefits this legislation will have for agriculture," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh. "Until that time we can only discuss theoretical gains that may or may not come to fruition should this legislation become law."

What Role Exists for Small, Mid-Size Farms in Future of Agriculture?

United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel took part in a conference at the University of Arkansas this week to look at the future role of small and mid-size farms in providing foods for local and regional food systems.

The Agile Agriculture conference was hosted by the university's Applied Sustainability Center within the Walton College of Business, and was sponsored in part by United members L&M Companies and Walmart.

"I found an interesting contrast in these discussions among those who primarily see the future of local agriculture as direct marketing to retail farm markets and local grocery stores and restaurants, compared with those who see opportunities for regional growers to take a place in the overall produce supply chain," Stenzel said. "It seems to me that for new local growers to join in the overall food system, they are going to need to form partnerships with companies in aggregating supply, marketing and handling logistics, as well as learning to comply with industry standards in food safety, traceability and other key responsibilities."

White House Convenes Immigration Summit with Congressional Leaders

New YorkPresident Obama met with 30 House and Senate members late last week to discuss the importance of moving forward with comprehensive immigration reform. In attendance were AgJobs champions Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL).

The president stated that "[his] administration is fully behind an effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform." However, he added that "...we know it's a sensitive and politically volatile issue. One of the things that was said around the table is the American people still don't have enough confidence that Congress and any administration is going to get serious about border security, and so they're concerned that any immigration reform simply will be a short-term legalization of undocumented workers with no long-term solution with respect to future flows of illegal immigration."

"It's a positive step that the administration organized this strategy session with key congressional leaders," said Kam Quarles, vice president of government relations and legislative affairs for United Fresh. "United Fresh is strongly supportive of moving forward with the legislative process immediately to give AgJobs the best chance of becoming law in the current Congress."

A full transcript of the president's comments can be found here.

Court Blocks H-2A Suspension

Farm Workers The Federal District Court in North Carolina on Monday blocked the Obama Administration's suspension of reforms to the nation's H-2A program put in place last December. Judge William Osteen sided with the plaintiffs, a group of labor providers, users and associations and issued a preliminary injunction preventing the administration's action. Therefore, the rules announced in December, with an effective date of January 17th, remain in effect.

The Bush Administration reforms modified the existing (and unreasonably stringent) timeframes involving the petition process, as well as the interim period that a guest worker can be out of work while remaining in the U.S. Additionally, a new calculation for determining the appropriate wage rates for the employees was implemented. This involves specific information from over 500 localities, instead of the 18 regions that the program previously utilized.

The H-2A program was also tightened in a variety of areas. Employers must notify authorities immediately when H-2A workers fail to meet certain conditions of employment or are terminated. Also, only workers from certain approved countries can be hired under the program. Employers are also incentivized to use the E-Verify program. For workers that have exhausted their eligible time in the U.S., enhanced biographic and biometric information will be required at certain participating ports-of-entry when they depart the U.S. for their mandatory time out of country.

This week's injunction, while temporary, marks the fourth change in direction for those reforms since December. United Fresh filed comments strongly opposing the Obama Administration's intent to overturn those reforms.

"With each conflicting notification, users of the program are subjected to greater uncertainty and unintentional bureaucratic errors or failure to secure an adequate workforce become more likely," said Kam Quarles, United’s vice president of government relations and legislative affairs.

House Takes a Time Out on Food Safety as Senate Ponders Next Steps

Capitol HillWhat was expected to be swift action by the House on the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 took a short break last week as additional congressional agenda items took center stage prior to Congress' July Fourth district work period. It is expected that the full House will consider this legislation during July.

"We expect the House to consider this food safety bill shortly and then action and attention will shift from the House to the Senate," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy at United Fresh.  "This continues to be an important time to let your elected leaders know how their actions will affect the ability of the produce industry to deliver healthy, safe and affordable produce to every congressional district across the country."

Meanwhile, a food industry briefing was held last week in the Senate that included a diverse panel of experts representing consumers, regulators and industry that discussed with over 30 Senate offices key food safety issues facing Congress today.  United Fresh served as one of the sponsors of this event while Robert Guenther served on the panel discussion focusing his comments on the produce industry's perspective.

"This was an important opportunity to discuss with key Senate offices our views on food safety and the impact this will have on the produce industry," said Guenther. "We look forward to working with the Senate to improve the House legislation and ensure a workable food safety program for fresh produce."

For details, please contact Robert at 202-303-3400.

FDA Announces Three Public Workshops on New Reportable Food Registry

FDAThe FDA has announced it will hold three public workshops on the Reportable Food Registry established by the FDA's Amendments Act of 2007.

The workshops will explain the purpose of the registry, how it will work, and the responsibilities of persons required to submit a report regarding instances of reportable food to FDA through the Reportable Food electronic portal. In addition, the role of federal, state and local public health officials in voluntarily reporting instances of reportable food to FDA will be discussed.

The workshops will be held July 23 in College Park, Md., August 5 in Chicago, Ill., and August 25 in Oakland, Calif. For more information, please click here or contact Juanita Yates, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, at 301-436-1731.

Golden State Rolls Out Red Carpet for Leadership Class 15

Justin Parnagian, sales manager and leadership alumnus, takes the class on a tour of Fowler Packing's extensive tree fruit packing house, following a hosted luncheon.

The 12 members of United Fresh Produce Industry Leadership Class 15 wrapped up their first trip of the year in California last week. Following a flurry of activities including a full day of professional leadership development training as well as a customized executive speaking seminar, the class met with industry leaders in Santa Maria, Bakersfield, Davis and points in between.

Jeff Dolan (left), field operations manager for The DiMare Company, discusses the unique process of tomato production with class members Greg Mixon, SunnyRidge Farm, Neil Merritt, Ready Pac Foods, and Bryan Roberts, Save-a-Lot.

The group covered nearly 500 miles across the Golden State during the week-long trip, which is the first of four this year, meeting with industry leaders and innovators along the way including Apio, Babé Farms, Bonipak, Driscoll's, Sun World, Grimmway Farms, Paramount Farms, Pandol Bros., Fowler Packing, The DiMare Company, and Nugget Markets. Additional highlights of the week included a town hall meeting with members in Santa Maria - a reception hosted by United Grower-Shipper Board Chairman Al Vangelos of Sun World International - at the company’s new headquarters in Bakersfield, and a specialized curriculum at UC Davis that wrapped up the week.

The leadership class learns the fundamentals of team bonding with an early morning rock-climbing activity.

"I'd like to extend a special thanks to all of companies who invited us into their facilities to share their time, experiences and know-how with the class," said Victoria Backer, senior vice president, member services, foundation. "While our industry is a competitive marketplace, our hosts understand that these tours and visits are not about giving away industry secrets; they're about sharing insights and knowledge that will make our industry smarter and ensure a stronger future for us all."

The Produce Industry Leadership Program has been generously sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection since its inception 1995. Leadership Class 15 will next convene in September at the Washington Public Policy Conference, September 9-11, in Washington, D.C.

Unique Opportunity for Family Businesses Awaits as July 24 Deadline Approaches

Those employed by a family business that is a United Fresh member company are invited to apply for the 2009 Frieda Rapoport Caplan Family Business Scholarship Program

This unique scholarship program is designed to increase family business involvement in produce industry advocacy by expanding opportunities for representatives from family businesses to attend United Fresh's Washington Public Policy Conference (WPPC). The program was established in 2001 and is made possible through a generous grant from Frieda's, Inc.

Up to four scholarships for employees of family-owned businesses will be awarded in 2009 to attend United's WPPC, September 9-11, in Washington, DC. Scholarship recipients will receive complimentary airfare, 2 nights hotel accommodation, and registration to attend the 2009 WPPC, the only event that brings together the entire produce industry to meet personally with congressional leaders and President Obama's executive team to advocate for our industry.

To apply for a 2009 Frieda Rapoport Caplan Family Business Scholarship, participants must complete an application form and written submission detailing why they want to attend the WPPC and what they hope to gain from the experience. Applicants for the scholarship must be employed by a family business that is a United Fresh member company in good standing. The application can be downloaded here and must be received by July 24.

For more information about the scholarship program, please contact Victoria Backer at 202-303-3400 ext. 408, and for more information about the WPPC, or to register today, contact Angela Bezon.

United Fresh Duffers Tackle Central California Links

The United Fresh golf team of Vice President of Membership Lefty Oberman and President Tiger Stenzel failed a fundamental principle of business etiquette last week at the 75th annual tournament hosted by the Grower Shipper Association of Central California in Salinas.

The duo forgot to play 'customer golf,' and instead came away with the top prize in their category, squeaking out victory over several fine, upstanding, and much more talented member company teams who just happened to have a bad day.

Anyone who knows Jeff and Tom also know they were playing in the last flight, or category of golfers with high handicaps. So, actually, top prize of the tournament went to David Gill of Rio Farms and Rob Roy of the Ventura County Agricultural Association, who repeated as tournament champs.

New Member Welcome

Each week, United Fresh welcomes its newest partners in building a stronger produce industry:

  • Delta Technology & Software, Morrisville, N.C.
  • Ingersoll-Rand Industrial Refrigeration, Bridgeton, Mo.
  • Western Pistachio Association, Fresno, Calif.
United Fresh thanks all current members for their dedication to the Association and the produce industry. Please let us know whenever we can be of service to you.  For more details about the benefits of membership, please contact Jeff Oberman or Miriam Miller at 202-303-3400.

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News & Views


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Mexico's tariffs hold on; U.S. producers react

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