(Nov. 21) The fresh produce industry should greet the new Congress like a long-lost friend.

While there are justifiable trepidations with any change in leadership, this approach — an extended hand, not a cold shoulder — is essential.

After all, there is much at stake in 2007.

An issue of paramount importance is immigration reform. While there is talk in mid-November about the lame duck Congress looking at comprehensive immigration reform, the issue is more likely to be addressed in the next Congress.

The industry’s history of a bipartisan approach to immigration reform should pay dividends.

The industry also needs to hit a home run with the 2007 farm bill. One important ally will be Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who will lead the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Harkin will be influential in the industry’s efforts to craft an inclusive farm bill. Nutrition and conservation issues will receive much attention, to the benefit of fresh produce growers and marketers.

True, some issues will be tougher to work in a Congress controlled by Democrats.

Food safety will receive a lot of attention, and the industry must find allies who embrace the necessity of more fruit and vegetables in the diet and good agricultural practices in the field.

If regulation is the answer, the industry must ask Congress what the question is.

With some empowered Democrats in favor of mandatory country-of-origin labels, it may be more difficult to pass a voluntary country-of-origin law to replace the mandatory version set to take effect in 2008.

There likely will be no elimination of the estate tax, a key issue for many family farmers.

Still, the new Congress is here.

It is good to meet you. Again.