(Sept. 9) WASHINGTON, D.C. — The upbeat recounting of legislative and policy successes and the earnest lobbying for expanded industry influence at the 2004 Washington Public Policy Conference were tempered by the absence of Florida industry leaders at the Sept. 7-10 event.

As they coped with the aftermath of two hurricanes in less than a month, Florida leaders typically at the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association’s annual event were absent, including officials from the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Florida Citrus Mutual and high-profile shippers from the state.

Still, the event was well-attended, with more than 200 preregistered.

At a presentation on Sept. 9, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said federal help would be available to fruit and vegetable growers who suffered hurricane damage in Florida.

Even as Hurricane Ivan threatened to brush Florida, she said federal officials were getting damage assessments and using existing funding to mobilize relief. Emergency loans, expedited claim assistance for crop insurance and emergency conservation funds will be used for initial relief, she said.

POLICY GAINS

United president Tom Stenzel said the child nutrition reauthorization bill passed this year raised the profile of fruits and vegetables in federal feeding programs, especially through the permanent inclusion of the fruit and vegetable feeding program in eight states and three Indian reservations.

Still hanging in the balance during the fast-dwindling legislative calendar are voluntary country-of-origin labeling, the AgJobs bill and the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act — issues that have advanced in the past year but remain unfinished objectives.

The conference’s congressional visits focused on three issues:

  • Further expansion of the fruit and vegetable program for schools.


  • Enacting the voluntary country-of-origin labeling legislation.


  • Pushing for support for the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act.



The Specialty Crop Competitiveness Act, HR 3242, was introduced in the House in October by Reps. Doug Ose, R-Calif., and Cal Dooley, D-Calif.

During a presentation, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, announced he was preparing to introduce the bill in the Senate, with Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., as a likely co-sponsor.

“It could be introduced by the end of this week,” he said.

Craig pledged to help the produce industry gain a greater voice in national farm policy in the years ahead. Meanwhile, Craig said he continues to fight for a chance for the full Senate to vote on the AgJobs legislation, which would reform guest worker and immigration rules for agriculture. If the bill fails this year, it will receive high priority next year, he said.