LAS VEGAS — The produce industry should be optimistic about its future under the Obama administration.

Marshall Matz, a principal in the law firm of Olsson Frank Weeda, Washington, D.C., and Barack Obama’s chief advisor on agricultural issues when he was running for president, said both Obama and the first lady are fresh fruit and vegetable lovers.

He said while Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will promote local, sustainable and organic issues, he understands the U.S. and parts of the world are fed by commercial agriculture. Obama supports this view as well.

Lobbyists spell out Obama’s role for produce


Matz said the school lunch program is working to more closely align with dietary guidelines, and that means more use of fresh produce.

“To put it in perspective, there are about 10,000 McDonald’s (in the U.S.),” he said in the April 22 workshop “Inside the Obama Camp” at United Fresh Marketplace 2009. “But there are 100,000-plus schools that serve lunches.”

Fellow workshop speaker Randy Russell, partner in Russell & Barron Inc., Washington, D.C., was less optimistic that Obama would be good for agriculture and produce specifically.

He said tougher regulations are coming.

“We’re going to get greenhouse gas regulations this year or early next year,” he said, which should affect agriculture companies.

Because the federal deficit is rising so quickly, Russell said there would be less chance for incentives and greater chance for regulation, in general.

He also predicted higher tax burden on the top 5% of income earners, which would likely include most small businesses, of which so many produce companies are classified.

Russell said one positive in 2009 was that labor unions appear to have over-reached on so called card check regulations.

“It looks like the Senate doesn’t have the votes, and that’s due in part to United Fresh’s work,” he said.

Both Matz and Russell are counsel to United Fresh.