(March 18, 1:30 p.m.) The board of directors of Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., voted to endorse Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Tom Nassif, president and chief executive officer of the trade association that represents growers, packers and shippers in California and Arizona, said he met with McCain on a number of occasions and the senator supports major issues important to the produce industry, particularly immigration reform.

“When he co-authored with Senator Kennedy the comprehensive immigration reform, he agreed to take AgJobs as it was and insert it into the bill, so agriculture would basically get everything we asked for,” Nassif said. “It was his doing that accomplished that objective.”

Nassif said McCain understands the value of the produce industry to Arizona and the U.S.

“He has gone through the numbers with us and has been steadfast in trying to encourage colleagues to understand the need to increase consumption for the health of the industry and, even more so, the health of the nation,” Nassif said.

Nassif said the association’s endorsement of McCain rather than Democrat senators Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama came down to a matter of action versus voicing support.

“To vote for something and to get out there and make it successful and press the issues, do all the homework to put together the bills and try to build coalitions to come up with compromises is far different than just having a vote on the floor,” he said. “That’s the difference between McCain, Clinton and Obama. McCain has done the work.”