The Sept. 30-Oct. 2 Washington Public Policy Conference will coincide with pivotal Congressional decisions on the farm bill and immigration reform, the lead lobbyist for the United Fresh Produce Association believes.

The timing couldn’t be better for industry members to drive home priorities to members of Congress, said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh, Washington, D.C.

“A lot of these issues will be coming to a head late in September and early October, and it is a great opportunity to be here and make one really strong final push for completion of those two major pieces of legislation,” he said Sept. 5.

Guenther said he would not be surprised if the fate of a new farm bill — the current one year farm bill expires at the end of September — will still be undecided when the WPPC begins.

“Having 500 to 600 people in D.C. from the industry making a strong push for completing a farm bill this year is going to be very valuable for members of Congress to hear from their constituents,” he said.

Reports from Capitol Hill indicate that very little staff work was done on the farm bill in August, which leaves a compressed period to make progress on the legislation in September, Guenther said.

The best hopes are that the House can complete work on the nutrition program soon and then appoint conferees from the House and the Senate to work on a unified version of the farm bill.

Guenther believes work on the new farm bill will extend into October or November, perhaps being packaged with a “must-pass” budget or a debt ceiling bill at the end of the year.

Immigration push

Guenther said United Fresh urged produce leaders to tell members of Congress in August how important comprehensive immigration reform is to their business, and to remind lawmakers to expect their visits to Capitol Hill in early October. “For some people, this will be revisiting an issue where they hopefully had a frank and honest discussion with their elected members in August and they will have a similar discussion in October,” Guenther said.

One good sign during the August recess, Guenther said, was the lack of news coverage of any anti-reform public backlash from districts where lawmakers have expressed support for comprehensive immigration reform.

“We got through the August break in pretty good shape related to the immigration debate,” he said.

Advocates for immigration reform can’t let Congress take its focus off immigration reform and be distracted by budget, debt ceiling, or Middle Eastern policy issues.

“This has got to be a high priority,” he said. “Having a lot of people in town the first week of October is going to be very important.”

While the farm bill and immigration reform will be the top policy issues, food safety reform will be the top regulatory issue, Guenther said.

The WPPC will provide an opportunity the morning of Oct. 2 to visit FDA offices in College Park, Md. and visit with agency officials about the proposed rules, Guenther said.

The agenda for the 2013 WPPC is available online.