● President Obama yesterday was in El Paso, Texas, to give a major address on immigration: he called on Congress to pass a comprehensive law on this long-festering and contentious topic. His key sentence for those involved with labor intensive agriculture: “We need to provide farms a legal way to hire the workers they rely on, and a path for those workers to earn legal status.” My own pessimistic measurement of when Congress will enact useful reforms to the nation’s immigration system is calibrated in years rather than months.
● I was in New Orleans last week for the United Fresh Produce Association’s annual convention. My reasons for attending included participation in various side meetings on policy issues and for the general opportunity to informally exchange ideas with colleagues from around the country. Two examples: I attended on Wednesday a steering committee meeting of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, where legislative objectives for the fruit and vegetable and related sectors of agriculture (that is, tree nuts, nursery crops, wine, etc.) were agreed to for the next Farm Bill. And, I was pleased to have dinner one night with friends immersed in questions of produce food safety, Scott Horsfall, the leader of the California Leafy Green Products Handler Agreement (LGMA), and Amy Philpott, a Washington, D.C.-based expert on crisis management.
● On a social note, I was informed while in New Orleans by another friend of long standing, Julia Daly Stewart, who at one time worked for USApple, that she had recently married Dennis Courtier. The bride continues with her public relations firm, Clarity Communications, and the groom with his Minnesota apple operation, Pepin Heights Orchard.
● USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service has seen its third change of leadership within the last three years. It was announced on May 2 that Administrator John Brewer would be taking a new job in Secretary Vilsack’s office, with FAS professional Suzanne Heinen to serve as acting administrator. From my viewpoint, this one-time interesting and respected trade-leadership position in our government has deteriorated over the past decade into a thankless job of dealing with reduced budgets, uninspired trade policy objectives, a blurred mission, and unhappy staff.
POLITICAL FRUIT: “Analysts and investors said they did not see how Greece could get its debt under control when output is slumping and there is little sign their efforts to restructure the economy are bearing fruit.” The New York Times, May 10, 2011.