Tom Nassif, Western Growers
Tom Nassif, Western Growers

In 2005, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and Western Growers entered into a memorandum of understanding detailing our intentions to increase collaboration between the fresh produce leaders of our respective states.

While the document contains its fair share of legalese, the agreement recognizes that fruit and vegetable producers in California, Arizona and Florida share many common issues that affect our collective ability to remain competitive and profitable.

We acknowledged that resources to fight the growing litany of challenges facing our industry are limited, and we pledged enhanced coordination of issues management at the national level.

Since the agreement was reached nearly a decade ago, FFVA and Western Growers have worked cooperatively on several key industry initiatives.

Next generation emerging as ag leadersFor example, we both serve as co-chairs of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, which helped secure a 55% increase in federal investment in the specialty crop industry in the recently passed farm bill.

Additionally, our organizations are actively involved in the Agriculture Workforce Coalition, which negotiated the framework for agricultural immigration reform as part of the overall comprehensive package passed by the Senate in 2013.

Along with our workforce coalition allies, we continue to work with our partners in the House of Representatives in anticipation of bringing a bill to the floor later this year.

While FFVA and WG are intensely focused on working together in the present, we are also mindful of the need for even stronger accord in the future.

Increasingly, many of the threats to our industry extend beyond arbitrary geographic or political boundaries.

Regardless of which coast we call home, we all face mounting legislative and regulatory intrusion, escalating environmental activism, rising global competition and changing climate conditions.

If we are going to overcome the obstacles that threaten our livelihood in the decades to come, we must redouble our efforts to prepare for the future.

So, how exactly do we ensure that the U.S. fresh produce industry remains strong and viable in the 21st century?

We begin by preparing the best and brightest minds in the next generation of agriculture to fill our shoes.

Many excellent leadership programs provide training and experience to young talent in our business, including FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program and WG’s Future Volunteer Leader Program.

But the answer does not end with simply providing these types of development opportunities to the leaders of tomorrow.

Instead, we must seek to instill in these young minds a broader perspective of the fresh produce industry and the political landscape which we all must successfully navigate in order to survive.

Earlier this year, FFVA and WG partnered once again to do exactly that.

In January, the WG leadership class accompanied their counterparts in the FFVA program on a three-day tour of South Florida agricultural operations.

And, in June, the FFVA group will travel to California to visit Salinas-area produce farms and packing facilities.

Our hope is that through these cross-country trips, members of the two leadership classes will develop an appreciation for the diversity of commodities and production practices employed by fruit and vegetable farmers in other parts of the country.

In doing so, these emerging agricultural leaders will begin to form the common bonds and collective resolve that will allow them to combat future challenges that may be far greater than the ones we have ever known.

Tom Nassif is president of the Western Growers Association, Irvine, Calif. Mike Stuart is president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland.

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