September 22, 2011

Tom Vilsack Highlights Face-to-Face Meetings at Washington Public Policy Conference

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will join Washington Public Policy Conference attendees at the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on October 5 for a candid meeting to discuss the current policy landscape for the produce industry regarding the Farm Bill, nutrition programs, agriculture research and other important USDA programs that will help promote the fresh produce industry. This marks the second time during his tenure as Agriculture Secretary that Vilsack has addressed United’s annual public policy summit.

“Secretary Vilsack and his team at USDA are intimately involved with so many issues that are important to the fresh produce industry,” said United Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel. “Attendees at this year’s Washington conference will have the chance to hear how these issues and more will affect their businesses.”

The meeting with USDA is part of a series of face-to-face meetings with industry regulators at this year’s Washington Public Policy Conference. In addition to the meeting with Secretary Vilsack, teams of attendees will meet with officials and representatives at the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss policy items impacting the fresh produce industry.

“We are very excited to have the opportunity to meet with Secretary Vilsack and his team to discuss key programs currently offered by USDA that will help the fresh produce industry,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh. “While Tuesday’s conference offerings will focus on Capitol Hill’s agenda, Wednesday’s face-to-face meetings provide us with an opportunity to see how laws are implemented and turned into critical federal programs that can help enhance the competitiveness of the fresh produce industry. From specialty crop block grants and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to the new MyPlate icon, these initiatives are critical to our industry.”

In addition to the meeting at USDA, attendees will visit with officials at FDA for a discussion on the pending regulations stemming from theFood Safety Modernization Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in January, as well as with EPA officials to address the implications of the Clean Water Act for grower-shippers and for other sectors of the produce industry.

Registration options and more information on WPPC is available at

House Judiciary Committee Passes E-Verify Bill, Rejects Ag Worker Amendment

The House Judiciary Committee has passed legislation mandating the use of E-Verify for all employers in the United States. Under the proposed Legal Workforce Act, introduced by committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), employers must confirm all employees’ eligibility through the federal E-Verify system. In passing the measure, the committee also rejected an agricultural worker amendment to the bill offered by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), meaning that the legislation’s final language will lack a provision for an agricultural workforce as it goes to the full House for passage.

“United Fresh strongly opposes any workforce legislation that does not include strong provisions for a practical agricultural worker program,” said United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther. “Without an agricultural worker program, this legislation threatens the viability of fruit and vegetable growers across the country, and will have a significant impact on the entire fresh produce marketing chain.”

United Fresh has advocated over the last year for a comprehensive approach to E-Verify legislation including provisions for a practical, efficient worker program encompassing all of U.S. agriculture. Although the committee will later consider an agricultural worker proposal by Chairman Smith, its chances of success in the House are far from certain.

“We’ve pushed hard for the committee to take a practical look at the needs of agricultural employers, but not only did it reject the agricultural worker provision, it stripped language from the bill protecting the ag sector, making the bill even more damaging,” Guenther added.

Now that the Legal Workforce Act has been passed by the committee, the last opportunity to amend the bill comes on the House floor. If the bill reaches that stage, every member of the House of Representatives will have a vote on the addition of an agricultural worker program amendment, as well as the passage of the final bill.

“This is one of those ‘every vote counts’ situations,” said Guenther. “With the increasing likelihood that the House will have a heated floor debate about the provisions in this E-Verify bill, it is critically important that produce industry members personally voice their concerns to their lawmakers. We absolutely must have all of the agricultural voices in the country together on this, pushing for a common-sense solution to what is an extremely dire farm labor situation. Passage of the current E-Verify bill could devastate not only the produce industry, but a large and vibrant section of American agriculture.”

Guenther says that a great way for the industry to get involved and speak up on the issue of immigration and E-Verify is at next month’s Washington Public Policy Conference.

“WPPC puts us right in front of the lawmakers that will be debating this bill,” he said. “It’s extremely important that we convey just how much the agriculture industry depends on farm labor, and at the same time, how much America depends on the agriculture industry.”

Registration options and more information on WPPC is available at

Sen. Tom Harkin to Deliver Keynote Address on 10th Anniversary of Landmark WPPC Event

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, returns to the Washington Public Policy Conference 10 years after his landmark suggestion to provide schoolchildren a free fruit or vegetable snack each day to promote better health. The author of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program in the 2002 Farm Bill, Sen. Harkin will speak on the importance of continued involvement and vigilance on child nutrition matters on Tuesday morning, October 4, at United’s annual public policy summit at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.

“As chair of the Senate HELP committee and former chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Harkin has long carried the torch for healthy kids on Capitol Hill,” said United Fresh President & CEO Tom Stenzel. “His leadership with the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and child nutrition in general has created unparalleled benefits for children nationwide.”

“Sen. Harkin’s vision for the school snack program in 2001 was extraordinary,” continued Stenzel. “I remember sitting in the WPPC audience, immediately recognizing the perfect simplicity of the idea, but also the hurdles we’d face in trying to implement a brand new program like this. But we all rolled up our sleeves and got to work.”

From humble beginnings as a pilot project serving 100 schools in just four states and one Indian reservation, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program was expanded nationwide in the 2008 Farm Bill with a budget of $1.2 billion. As students return to school this fall, more than 4 million kids across the country will enjoy a free fruit or vegetable snack every school day.

“Even with the resounding success of the program he envisioned 10 years ago, Sen. Harkin would be the first to tell WPPC attendees that his vision will not be fulfilled until every child has the same opportunity to taste and experience the widest variety of fresh fruits and vegetables,” Stenzel said.  “Our work is not done, and we must continue to be a positive force for increasing children’s consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Registration options and more information on WPPC is available at

POLITICO’s Jim VandeHei to Pull Back Washington Curtain for Produce Industry

Jim VandeHei, co-founder and executive editor of POLITICO, will be the featured speaker at the October 5 closing lunch session for United’s annual Washington Public Policy Conference. POLITICO touches over 3 million readers each month through its online access while more than 30,000 of the nation’s political readers read its Washington-based newspaper.

“Jim will provide our WPPC attendees a unique perspective of how politics, campaigns and the media intersect our nation and why these three pillars will influence one of the most eagerly-anticipated elections in 2012,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh. The Washington Public Policy Conference draws more than 500 produce industry leaders from across the country annually to Washington, where they will meet with congressional leaders and administration officials.

Vanity Fair recently named VandeHei among the 100 most powerful “Information Age” thinkers for helping create “the model for the new media success story”. Washingtonian Magazine named him one of the 100 people to watch in the new millennium, and VandeHei along with co-founder John Harris were named the fifth most influential U.S. pundits by the London Telegraph. In addition, VandeHei co-moderated two presidential debates in 2008 including the first debate to incorporate questions voted on by a live online audience. POLITICO, established in 2006, includes the largest White House and congressional news team in the country and is known for its on-the-edge reporting of Capitol Hill, the administration, and Washington. It provides traditional media values of fairness and accuracy with the speed and immediacy of new technologies.

“VandeHei is better positioned than anyone else to pull back the curtain on Washington and address what is really happening inside the White House and on Capitol Hill,” said Guenther. “We are excited to have someone with Jim’s 15-year experience speak before our industry leaders.”

Registration options and more information on WPPC is available at

U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Sits Down to Talk About Food

Today, United Fresh, Western Growers Association and other members of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance held the inaugural Food Dialogues, a virtual town hall to address the future of the food industry, and opportunities for food producers to better communicate with American consumers looking for information on how their food is produced.

The town halls took place simultaneously in Washington, New York, Davis, CA, and Fair Oaks, IN, as well as via the USFRA website and Facebook page . "Good Morning America’s Claire Shipman moderated the event, which featured feature Chef John Besh, Max Armstrong of Farm Progress Companies and Jane Wells of CNBC.

“The Food Dialogues initiative sparks an exchange of ideas among many different stakeholders, both within and outside of agriculture,” said United Fresh Vice President of Communications Ray Gilmer. “United is proud to help represent the produce industry in this landmark campaign and we look forward to providing leadership as it moves forward. Today’s event is just a beginning, but it will undoubtedly contribute to greater awareness and understanding about food production and the challenges our members face.”

More information on today’s town hall is available at the USFRA website and Facebook page .

United’s New Fresh Impact Publication Out in Advance of Washington Public Policy Conference

United Fresh makes a Fresh Impact this week with a new profile of the landmark progress made by the fresh produce industry on critical industry and policy issues in Washington, and nationwide. The 57-page Fresh Impact showcases the dedication of United Fresh volunteer leaders, members and staff on policy matters including child nutrition, immigration and labor, the Farm Bill and food safety, as well as industry initiatives and issues like the intricacies of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, harmonization of Good Agricultural Practices audits and the establishment of a tomato metrics document.

“It is extraordinarily rewarding to see a ‘greatest hits’, if you will, of the amazing work that the produce industry has been able to accomplish by working together in recent years,” said Ray Gilmer, United Fresh vice president of communications and the editor-in-chief for Fresh Impact. “As we move toward the Washington Public Policy Conference, Fresh Impact gives us a wonderful example of the progress our industry can make in Washington and nationwide.”

Copies of Fresh Impact will reach United Fresh members this week, and copies will be available at next month’s Washington Public Policy Conference. Fresh Impact is available online by clicking here.

FFVA 68th Annual Convention Looks at State of Industry

United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel joined a panel of industry leaders at this week’s Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association’s annual convention to look at challenges and opportunities facing the industry. Also on the panel were former congressman and now Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, United Fresh and FFVA Board member Tony DiMare, and representatives of the Florida Farm Bureau and University of Florida.

The panel agreed on many challenges facing the industry, putting labor concerns at the top of the list. Stenzel told the audience that in his recent six-state tour last month, concerns about having an adequate and legal workforce were unanimous.

“The irony here is that when we visited Leamington, Canada, we found no such problems due to an effective guest worker program that brings in thousands of workers for agriculture,” said Stenzel. “This is a message that we have to take to Congress in two weeks at the Washington Public Policy Conference.”

The panel was not entirely pessimistic though, citing USDA’s new MyPlate campaign calling for half the diet to be made up of fruits and vegetables.

“With the commitment made to kids health and fighting childhood obesity, we’re on the verge of a new generation that significantly increases its fruit and vegetable consumption, if we can take care of our many challenges,” Stenzel added.

University of Florida Leadership Class Visits United Fresh

E-Verify legislation was the main topic of discussion when more than 30 representatives of the Florida agriculture industry visited the United Fresh Washington offices today. In addition to E-Verify, the class of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute, headquartered at the University of Florida, heard from United staff about a variety of produce industry priorities, including the 2012 Farm Bill, nutrition policy, sustainability and access to crop protection tools. The meeting at United’s offices was part of a week-long agenda in Washington, which included meetings on Capitol Hill, at USDA, the U.S. Trade Representative and several agricultural organizations.

“Concerns about E-Verify are top-of-mind for Florida producers,” said Ray Gilmer, United’s V.P. of Communications. “I think this leadership class gained an appreciation for the work that goes into policy advocacy here in Washington, and how such policy can have a huge impact on every business in agriculture.”

Several members of the class were from United Fresh member companies and represented citrus, vegetables, seeds, crop protection, environmental management, agricultural credit, and other sectors of Florida’s agricultural industry.

Meet Your United Fresh Board of Directors: As Both a Staffer and a Chairman, River Point Farms’ Steffanie Smith Has Done Much to Leave Her Thumbprint on United Fresh

Steffanie Smith, CEO
River Point Farms
Hermiston, Oregon

Tell us about your background in ag.

I’m a member of a third generation production ag family, and the family business name is Skone & Connors. My dad is still active in the business, and he’s in the potato, onion and apple business today. My first job was weighing trucks when I was 12, 13 years old, so produce was always part of the conversation for me. Driving to the fields with my dad on the weekends and going to work with him on Saturdays was just part of growing up.

What do you like about your hometown area?

It’s where I was born and raised and it’s beautiful. Kind of a high-desert climate, and I live near the Columbia River. It’s a very ag-oriented area with lots of potatoes, onions, alfalfa, wheat, corn, peas, carrots, lots of apples and a huge wine industry. It’s a very healthy community, lots of people biking, hiking, lots of river sports. It’s close to the mountains for skiing in the winter. It’s a great area. I love the Salinas area too, so I feel that I really have the best of both worlds.

Was there ever a point when you thought about getting out of ag? If so, what pulled you back toward the industry?

I went to college at UCLA, and certainly I loved my time there. While I was there, I worked for my family during the summers, except for two years that I interned and worked in D.C. I was a political science major in school, and I was debating whether to go to law school and potentially a career in politics. That was my goal when I went to D.C. after school, to work on Capitol Hill. My other professional interest was law enforcement, having interned at INTERPOL one summer as well. When I finished school, I wanted to work for a while before I applied to law schools. I was somewhat done with school and I didn’t necessarily want to jump right back in to more school. I knew I wanted to be back in D.C., so two of my girlfriends and I packed up and drove cross country, moving to D.C. without jobs and just started looking. At the time, the job market was tough, and I didn’t get a job right away, so I bartended for a few months until I got a foot in the door. It took me about three months of no job offers before I got three offers in the span of a week, one of which was United. It was an interesting job, kind of a split between media and research, and it paid more than the other offers. When you’re 21 or 22, it becomes an easier decision to make. So at that point I was in D.C., and loved the opportunity that United provided for me, as a happy combination of my produce experience and my education, and it exposed me to so many great experiences. I got to see the political side, the education and training side, I got to see us plan seminars and conventions, so it provided a really nice blend of opportunities.

You just ended your tenure as United’s chairman. Given your experience as a former United staffer, as well as your time working with United as an industry leader, what is one preconception that you had that has changed over the course of your chairmanship?

Probably the idea that you can’t make a difference in a year. I think that we’ve shown that you really can. Within the association, there are a lot of choices, a lot of options through which you can make an impact and really change things to leave your thumbprint in a short period of time. I hope that I have done that. For my peers, for my fellow board members, for the staff there at United, I hope that I can say that my time here has been well spent. It certainly has been for me, but I hope others can say that I’ve served well and made a difference. But it can be somewhat overwhelming; all of a sudden, you’re there one day and you want to do all of this stuff and make all of this progress, but things happen and things change, no differently than in a business. Would I like to have made a bigger impact in certain areas? Sure. Did I make an impact in areas that I didn’t realize I would? Sure. That’s just the nature of the beast. It really is what you put into it. If you want to put time into it and be engaged, you can, and if you find that you can’t, the staff is certainly always there to help and support you. I’m even more impressed with the staff than I was before I started. Having the chance to work closely together with them has shown me that they are invested and care as deeply about the issues as those of us at individual companies in the industry care.

You mention leaving a “thumbprint.” What is one area or issue where you feel you’ve made the most progress and of which you’re most proud?

Ironically, I don’t think that it’s an issue. I think that it’s the engagement of the board and the engagement of the membership with United. When I started the year, there were three things that I really wanted to focus on, the first being helping people get more out of their membership to United. I wanted to make sure that people had reason to get excited, to be engaged and t be participatory, so I participated in the Town Halls, telling people about United at each opportunity. I’m always amazed at the people who aren’t aware of the good work that United is doing, so I feel that I have made progress toward getting more people to understand what it is that we do. Second, I wanted to make sure that the members of the board of directors felt comfortable and open to express their opinions and concerns. We made some changes to the board meetings and how those are structured and as a result, I think that the board is more engaged now than ever, Finally, the salad bar campaign was a big priority for me. The First Lady’s endorsement was such a huge deal for the initiative, and while certainly we’d always like to have the ability to donate more salad bars, that support from the White House enables us to keep up the great work of the salad bar program.

New Member Welcome

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

  • CoBank, Greenwood Village, CO
  • Wendy’s Quality Supply Chain Coop, Dublin, OH

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 at 831-422-0940 or Miriam Miller at 202-303-3410.

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