Ag Secretary Hears From Strawberry Growers

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Left to right: Congressman Greg Pence, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Congressman Ross Spano heard strawberry grower concerns.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, accompanied by two congressmen, heard Florida strawberry growers’ concerns about trade and labor issues March 6 in Plant City. Perdue, Florida Congressman Ross Spano and Indiana Congressman Greg Pence, older brother of Vice President Mike Pence, lunched with growers at the Florida Strawberry Festival.

Perdue says he likes to hear directly about issues from growers and others, and addresses some of the concerns growers had.

The secretary says he travels more than 50 percent of the time so he can talk directly to people with problems. He says Congressmen hear about “an issue, a problem or an idea, and they pass it along. But we just try to kind of cut that out and go directly to the people who are having problems … Trade and labor are far and away the Number 1 and 2 issues overall.”

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Perdue acknowledges hearing from growers about imports of fruits and vegetables from Mexico, “how that’s really dampening the prospects for the growers here in Plant City and across Florida and Georgia.” One strawberry grower suggested that Mexican subsidization of its agricultural industry is a problem. Perdue says subsidization will be addressed at an April 7 meeting of federal officials and growers. He says the U.S. agricultural industry “probably knows better the facts and the data (about subsidization) than we do … They know how the competition works. They’re in competition day in and day out. So we depend on them to bring the facts of what’s happening out there so we can bring actions that can help mitigate that.”

One strawberry grower told Perdue the H-2A program, which allows temporary foreign agricultural labor in the United States, should not be under the U.S. Department of Labor. Perdue says he hears that a lot. In the meeting itself, he said he was not optimistic that the H-2A program would be taken from the Department of Labor.

Congressman Pence briefly mentioned trade imbalance and the labor issue, saying, “What we need to do is win back the Congress. And I’m here to help (Florida Congressman) Ross (Spano) do that.”

Hear more from Perdue and Pence:

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Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Correspondent at Large