WASHINGTON — The issues are so critical on Capitol Hill this year that the United Fresh Produce Association has extended visits to congressional offices to two days because more visits mean more time to have an impact, said Ron Midyett, chief executive officer of Apio Inc. and chairman of the United Fresh board of directors.
Midyett spoke to The Produce News just weeks before more than 500 industry leaders will descend on Washington Sept. 30-Oct. 3 to delve into policy issues that can change a company’s bottom line.
“I think the Washington Public Policy Conference is one of the best events United does,” said Midyett. “From the feedback I’ve received, it’s the most impactful in the industry.”
Usually, WPPC carves out one day for attendees to visit House and Senate offices, but this year organizers are splitting up the House and Senate visits and extending them over two days.
Four top issues are at a critical junction in Washington, and Congress needs to hear from the fresh produce industry now, Midyett said.
Immigration reform is a leading issue, whether companies specialize in growing fresh produce, manufacturing, logistics or distribution, and United Fresh members will be discussing the financial ramifications to the business community if Congress doesn’t act, he said.
The Senate-passed immigration reform bill includes language brokered between labor and the agriculture business community.
“Is it perfect? No,” Midyett said. “Is it a really good compromise? Absolutely.”
With the U.S. House taking a different direction on immigration reform and perhaps splitting up segments of the bill, this is a critical time for the produce industry to let Congress know that status quo is unacceptable, he said.
Produce leaders need to urge lawmakers to break the impasse and reauthorize the 2008 farm bill, listen to businesses on the impact of the health care reform law, and keep an eye on the Food & Drug Administration’s implementation of the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, he said.
WPPC also includes meetings with other allied associations on top legislative issues; the Fresh Festival reception that gives industry an opportunity to mix with Congress and their staff; and the Oct. 2 meeting with Food & Drug Administration regulators who are busy writing the new food-safety rules.
This year’s business sessions include panel discussions on three topics: Managing Labor Issues in Your Business; Addressing Food Safety Challenges Today and Tomorrow, and Growing Kids’ Consumption: Growing New Consumers. It kicks off the conference with a panel of six staff from congressional offices, congressional committees and the administration on industry legislative issues.
The conference also includes a new event, the Washington Insiders Dinner (by invitation only), where Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) will share his thoughts on agriculture and congressional priorities.
Midyett said the United Fresh meeting provides a bigger stage for the produce industry, “bigger than any of us individually” on issues such as labor and the farm bill — policies that can translate into real benefits for a company and grow jobs.