● Over the past week, the Northwest Horticultural Council worked at the request of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in arranging a mid-day visit yesterday to the Yakima Valley by the country’s top agricultural trade negotiator. Ambassador Siddiqui was in the state on a quick trip from Washington, D.C., to promote President Obama’s jobs plan and the three Free Trade Agreements (Korea, Panama, and Colombia) being debated this week in the U.S. Senate. A lunch meeting with the ambassador and industry leaders allowed for discussion on other trade issues of special concern to our region’s tree fruit exporters, such as high protective tariffs imposed by India and intractable phytosanitary issues with Japan. These kind of visits by dignitaries could not come off successfully without the ready and capable assistance given by those firms we call on for special help, in this case Rainier Fruit Company in Selah.

● Last week, as part of a group from United’s Washington Public Policy Conference, I listened to presentations by the Food and Drug Administration’s team working on implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Those working to develop new produce safety rules had many things of interest to say about their current thinking. Two, especially, caught my ear: (1) a shift away from a commodity-specific regulatory focus (our tree fruits are low risk commodities) to one on general agricultural practices, such as the application of irrigation water, and (2)  an announcement that a federal registration system for all produce farms was being contemplated. While being justified by FDA on enforcement grounds, I suspect there is a side benefit perceived by the regulators—a convenient tax role from which to easily impose future food safety fees.

● Tomorrow, I take a flight to Atlanta for the annual convention of the Produce Marketing Association. Besides attending PMA’s educational sessions and roaming the labyrinth of its trade show, I plan to have side meetings with various others who will be in Atlanta on topics ranging from Canadian trade issues, minor crop chemicals, and crisis management.

POLITICAL FRUIT: “Herman Cain is just the latest incarnation of what is totally false for the needs of our community and the needs of our nation. I think he’s a bad apple.” Harry Belafonte in interview on the Joy Behar Show of CNN, posted online October 10, 2011.