(Feb. 7) Immigration and farm labor laws top the list of concerns of members of Western Growers.

After hearing from its members in an annual survey on farm issues, the Irvine, Calif.-based group plans to lobby for improvements to labor laws, said Jasper Hempel, executive vice president and general counsel.

“On the farm bill and immediate issues, I hope there is some kind of comprehensive immigration reform that would create a guest worker program,” Hempel said. “The choice is, are there going to be harvests in the U.S.? Every farm job creates 3.5 jobs in the private sector. Or are they going to be harvesting in another country?”

For labor laws, Hempel predicts minimum wage increases at the federal level.

Every year, issues evolve, said Tim Chelling, vice president of communications.

“I think what it shows is that some of these issues are perennial,” Chelling said. “Some of these issues have worked themselves out.”

For instance, worker’s compensation is an issue that Western Growers has seen improvements in, Hempel said.

In 2006, worker’s compensation ranked as fourth in concerns for California. It did not appear on the list of concerns for Arizona. In 2005, worker’s compensation ranked as first concern for California and as the fifth concern for Arizona.

“It’s a compliment to some of our people in government affairs, that they actually do have successes and that there are good stories that come out these concerns,” Chelling said.

Meanwhile, water supply usually ranks in Western Growers surveys. For 2006, it ranked as the third most important issue for California and as the seventh most important issue for Arizona. In 2005, it was the second most important issue for both states.

“Water is almost a perennial issue in both states,” Chelling said. “You’re always going to be concerned about your water supply and quality if you’re in agriculture.”