The Politics of Apples—If you hire foreign workers, use pesticides, or export apples, your business is affected by government decisions.
It is easy—but risky—to convince yourself that what goes on in Washington, D.C., is faraway, beyond your control, and doesn’t have any direct impact on you or your business. But in reality, the decisions made on Capitol Hill and in the regulatory branches of the federal government, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, can and do have major impacts on the U.S. apple industry. The industry needs a voice in these arenas.
Ignoring what happens in Washington, D.C., means taking a chance with the future of your business. Are any of your workers from outside the United States? Do you use pesticides? Are your apples exported? Are your apples being served to school children or other federal feeding programs? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your business is affected by government decisions.
As of this writing, a number of important issues that could affect the apple industry are being decided in Washington, D.C., from immigration reform to funding levels for grant programs that can help increase apple consumption.
First and foremost in the minds of the industry is immigration reform and agricultural labor. I am writing this column well ahead of its publication, and from this vantage point, it appears that the battle over this issue is far from over. Apples and other labor-intensive industries have a better position now with the Senate-approved bill than after the House of Representatives took action.
There is still a wide divide between the measure approved by the Senate that included the AgJOBS provisions the apple industry needs, and the House’s “enforcement only” strategy. These differences will hopefully be addressed by a conference committee of select members from both chambers. However, this process is likely to see some significant delays as the House leadership plans to hold hearings outside of Washington, D.C., on the Senate bill before appointing its representative to the conference committee.
USApple and many other groups are working hard to make certain that lawmakers understand the vital importance of the need for comprehensive agricultural labor reform. We will talk to members of Congress and staff members as the process moves forward. Individual members of the industry should keep informed on the activity and look for opportunities to let Congress know how this issue impacts their business.
Reregistration of azinphos-methyl (Guthion) for use on apples has also been an industry priority. While EPA has issued a preliminary decision to phase out the product on apples, USApple is continuing to work with the agency to keep it.
The EPA is accepting comments on its preliminary decision through early August, and will be making a final decision soon thereafter. USApple is working to educate EPA officials on the benefits of Guthion and on ways that the agency’s analysis falls short of the reality of apple growing. The benefits of azinphos-methyl are clear and demonstrated by the fact that it is used on more than 70 percent of the apples grown in the United States. Azinphos-methyl is very effective in controlling a wide variety of destructive pests in apple orchards and is economical. Even the EPA acknowledges that the loss of azinphos-methyl could cost the industry as much as $68 million.
We are facing an uphill battle with the agency. However, this issue is too important to the industry not to make every effort possible.
While some issues that the government addresses involve defending the industry, USApple also works to build consumer demand and expand profit opportunities through federal funding. This is the case with the fiscal year 2007 budget process. At this point, the House and the Senate Appropriations Committees have included apple industry priorities in their agricultural spending bills. The full House of Representatives approved its version of the spending bill in May.
These programs, including the Market Access Program (MAP),
the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and the federal Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, will help build apple demand in the United States and around the world, creating and strengthening markets for the industry.
Key differences exist between the House and Senate versions of the spending bills, but if each chamber includes the program, it is more likely that it will emerge in some form in final legislation. If the Senate approves the measure later this summer, a House-Senate Conference Committee would be named to iron out the differences.
While USApple is working hard on these and many other political issues on behalf of the apple industry, we cannot do this alone. To be effective, we need the support of individual industry members.