In his address at the U.S. Potato Board’s annual meeting, John Keeling reiterated his message about the importance of immigration reform.

“The potato board works to make good things happen,” said Keeling, chief executive officer of the National Potato Council, “and the council works to prevent bad things from happening by lobbying in Washington.”

Acrimony and divisions in Washington make it tough for the council, though, he said, citing increased polarization in Congress and uncertainty about the sequester’s effect.

One thing is certain, the potato industry already is feeling the pinch, with the suspension of potato stock reports from NASS, which the council is working to save, Keeling said.

He also referred to food stamp programs and the need to return potatoes to Women, Infants and Childern — contrasting them to programs that “support corporate greed” — as another political battleground.

Keeling also challenged Republican members of the industry to overcome their fear of immigrants. They are inherently conservative, he said, with family and education values,but according to a PEW report immigration is the single-most important issue that has united Hispanics and pushed them to vote Democrat.

“For the sake of agriculture, we need to make peace with the 10 to 11 million illegal immigrants … We need to make it possible for them to work on farms and in agriculture, with guest worker programs, fair pay,” he said. “We need to lobby Republicans to support this and include some pathway to citizenship.”