The choices we make today shape our reality tomorrow. This truth is the theme of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s 2019 Annual Meeting. It also shapes how we carry out our mission of enhancing the value of all segments of the tree fruit industry through education and training, statistical reporting and advocacy on state and local government issues.
Education is an essential part of preparing for the future, and over the past year WSTFA has helped 800 industry producers to do so in 23 workshops.
We focus our efforts on training that will help producers comply with state and federal regulations, including the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule and the Worker Protection Standard. We collaborated with United Fresh, the Produce Marketing Association, the University of California, Davis Western Center for Food Safety, the Produce Safety Alliance, the Washington State Department of Agriculture and other organizations to provide content specifically designed for the tree fruit industry.
Our upcoming training season will again offer workshops for regulatory compliance, but we will also focus on video production. WSTFA has already produced six training videos in English and Spanish, intended to develop skills for food safety and workers’ safety.
We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback and requests that we produce more videos that can serve as effective training tools in actual warehouse and farm settings. Our next big project will be the creation of prehire and onboarding videos for farms and packing houses that will help attract and retain local and seasonal workers.
The choices made by our elected officials certainly affect our future, and not always for the better. The 2019 Washington legislative session was particularly challenging and highlighted the urban-rural divide in our state.
One of the bills that created alarm but, thankfully, did not pass was SB 5693 relating to agricultural supply chains, but better known as the “ag slavery bill.” This bill would have required large retailers to track and report slavery, human trafficking or any other labor law violation by its suppliers of agricultural products, including tree fruit. The agriculture community strongly objected to the presumption that slavery and human trafficking occur in Washington agriculture or that labor law violations are more common in agriculture than in other sectors of the economy.
WSTFA was also deeply engaged in the successful effort to stop a proposal to impose fees on Washington employers who apply to use the federal H-2A agricultural guest worker program. The bill (SB 5438) as introduced would have imposed millions of dollars in new costs on growers already struggling with an agricultural labor shortage and forced to use the complex and expensive H-2A visa program.
While we were successful in having the fee authority removed from the bill, the remaining portions — reorganizing the staff of the Employment Security Department working on these issues and creating an advisory committee on Agricultural and Seasonal Workforce Services — did pass. Agricultural labor issues will continue to be under scrutiny in Olympia, and this fee proposal may well resurface if federal funding for program administration does not keep pace with the workload delegated to the state.
There is something that you can do today if you don’t want your future to include harmful legislation and regulation based on misinformation about you and your farm. Plan to attend WSTFA’s annual Tree Fruit Day in Olympia on Jan. 28, 2020. We will make the appointments with legislators and provide you with background information and an experienced group leader. Making the trip is well worth your time, because it is a lot harder to demonize someone after you have looked them in the eye and heard their stories.
Finally, you can prepare for your future by ensuring that you stay informed. If you have not already done so, go to our website (wstfa.org) to sign up for a member log-in. Don’t forget that growers whose fruit is packed by a dues-paying member of WSTFA receive all member benefits at no further cost.
Take full advantage of your member benefits to access online training content and workshop registration information, receive statistical and issue updates, and register to participate in Tree Fruit Day. •
—by Jon DeVaney