(Sept. 13) Leaders of the fresh produce industry gathered for the Washington Public Policy Conference Sept. 7-10 in the nation’s capital.

Sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, the conference is designed to give the produce industry a say in the halls of the national government.

Through grass-roots lobbying efforts in support of such issues as voluntary country-of-origin labeling, expansion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fruit and Vegetable Program and the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act, the produce industry accomplished just that.

But United and its leadership weren’t satisfied with its annual march on Capitol Hill. They wanted more. And they got it. Consider its slate of speakers: Allen Johnson, chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho; Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who heads the House Agriculture Committee; former GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole; and, last but clearly not least, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

As Ron Carkoski, president and chief executive officer of Four Seasons Produce Inc., Ephrata, Pa., and co-chairman of the convention, said, “We are the voice of the produce industry, and we’re here to be heard.”

Through the years, the conference, as this year’s event demonstrated, has won the ear of governmental leaders.