PLANT CITY, Fla. — Preparing their fields for winter berry plantings, Florida strawberry growers learned the latest on key industry issues during their yearly summer conference.

At the Florida Strawberry Growers Association's Agritech 2009 meeting Aug. 18, growers heard an update on how immigration issues could affect the industry and how the deal is seeing increased plantings.

Walter Kates, director of the labor relations division of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, gave growers a rundown on federal immigration reform efforts in Washington, D.C.

Florida strawberry growers hear about labor reform

Doug Ohlemeier

Shawn Pollard, salesman for Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC, Plant City, Fla., (from left), talks with Larry Scarborough, salesman for BBI Produce Inc., Dover, Fla., at the Florida Strawberry Growers Association's Agritech 2009 meeting. The Aug. 18-19 meetings had growers hearing about immigration reform and other grower and industry issues.

He said some of the issues he talked to growers about last year are nearly identical to this year’s topics.

“This whole immigration mess unfortunately is not over,” Kates said. “The last chapter has not been written yet. It will be around for quite some time and will continue to swirl.”

Kates said the depressed economy has been the only thing that has saved Florida and U.S. agriculture in general, with thousands of workers who normally wouldn’t work in the fields turning to agriculture.

The big question, he said, is how many have gone into agriculture and how many will remain working in the industry.

Despite the recession, Ted Campbell, the strawberry growers association’s executive director, said strawberries are faring better than other commodities.

“Our economy is going through some stress but strawberries are going well,” he said, quoting information from the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville. “The berry category is the No. 1-selling sales category in produce.”

Campbell also said Florida’s strawberry deal is experiencing large increases in acreage. He said the deal should see nearly 9,000 planted acres this season, a substantial increase from last year’s 8,000 acres.

The conference continues Aug. 19.