(June 14) The U.S. House Agriculture Committee, which will hammer out a new farm bill next year, now knows what fruit growers in the Pacific Northwest want in the measure — funding for research.

Fruit producers are looking for ways to stave off problems finding field workers and fighting pests and diseases with outmoded chemicals, said Chris Schlect, president of the Yakima, Wash.-based Northwest Horticultural Council, who attended a committee hearing June 10 in Yakima.

“Collectively, we all want to see a greater focus on research,” Schlect said June 13.

With border security and immigration reform dominating headlines across the country, growers are increasingly worried about finding enough field labor, Schlect said.

That was also mentioned by many of the panelists that testified that we simply have to have some type of guest-worker program if these crops are to continue to be harvested in the U.S.

Short of that, growers must turn to technology for answers, in the form of mechanical harvesting devices, Schlect said.

The hearing is one of 12 the agriculture committee has scheduled across the U.S. as a way to get grower input for the upcoming farm bill.

The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, 2007.

FIGHTING PESTS

Schlect said the industry also has to update its arsenal in fighting pests and diseases.

“One area that is important is substitutes for old chemicals developed in the 1940s and ‘50s that are slowly being removed from the growers’ toolbox,” he said.

The committee came to Yakima at the request of Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who represents fruit growers in central Washington.

“With a focus on specialty crops and unique water and environmental challenges, the needs of our agriculture community are far different than those in many other farm states,” Hastings said in a news release, announcing the hearing in his state.