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WASHINGTON -- The produce industry learned that it will lose a key advocate on Capitol Hill next year with the Oct. 20 announcement that Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) is retiring at the end of 2012.

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Rep. Dennis Cardoza

Since taking office in 2003, Rep. Cardoza has been a strong voice for the agriculture industry, especially in his position on the House Agriculture Committee.

The California congressman helped write the 2008 farm bill that made a $1.7 billion investment in specialty crops through research, marketing and federal food purchase programs. With many of the provisions set to expire in 2012, Rep. Cardoza is likely to play a role in drafting the next farm bill before he leaves office.

"The number one industry in the [Central] Valley is agriculture, and our work to eliminate the 'tractor tax' in California and write the 2008 farm bill will always stand out as major advances," Rep. Cardoza said in a statement announcing his decision not to seek re-election.

The 52-year-old congressman did not hint to his future plans, but said, "While I plan to retire from public service after this term in Congress, I will energetically continue my efforts to improve California as a private citizen."

"Dennis has been, and always will be, a true friend of California farmers," Western Growers Association President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Nassif said in a statement. "He championed the specialty crop title in the 2008 farm bill and has worked to ensure Central Valley farmers have a secure and reliable supply of water. He was always ready to listen to our concerns and take action when needed."

United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel called the latest news "bittersweet."

"He has been a tireless champion for the fresh produce industry, and a great friend and ally, not just to the industry in California's Central Valley, but also nationwide," said Mr. Stenzel.

Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy United Fresh, said that Rep. Cardoza worked to focus other lawmakers on the needs of specialty crops, and that his efforts to push for money for pest and disease, research, conservation and state block grants have "yielded countless success stories for growers across the country."

The sixth House member to announce retirement, the Blue Dog Democrat clears the way for Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), a good friend, to vie for his redrawn district.

Mr. Cardoza's family has long had ties to agriculture. His grandparents immigrated to Merced County from Portugal and the family raised dairy cattle and grew sweet potatoes, almonds, watermelons, wheat, oats and alfalfa.