Gary Wishnatzki, chief executive officer of Wish Farms, was one of several strawberry growers who met with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and two congressmen in Plant City recently. Growers at that meeting said Mexican subsidization of its agricultural industry is a problem, as is the H-2A program, which allows temporary foreign agricultural labor into the United States. Wishnatzki says he agrees with other growers that labor and trade are a problem.
“The secretary absolutely understands the issues, and he’s been a great advocate for the industry,” Wishnatzki says. “We certainly are having issues with not getting enough workers. That’s a major concern for the entire industry. On the trade issue side, I think the only thing growers here are advocating for is fairness.”
Wishnatzki has been heavily involved in the development of a mechanical strawberry harvester that should help strawberry growers with their labor issues. “We’re getting very close now to having a commercial vehicle, a commercial harvester,” he says. “We’re very excited about the progress we’ve made, and I’m very encouraged by what I’ve seen just recently.”
Growers of Florida fresh fruit and vegetables were looking forward to having the chance to voice their concerns about trade during an April 7 public hearing in Plant City with representatives from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representatives and the departments of Agriculture and Commerce. However, that meeting has been postponed in an effort to avoid gatherings during the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the Office of United States Trade Representative, “Interested parties are still encouraged to submit written comments and information via Regulations.gov here. The original deadline for written submissions — March 26, 2020 — has been waived. The public docket will remain open and will accept written submissions during this period of postponement, and new submission deadlines will be announced in connection with the announcement of new hearing dates.”
The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association says the hearing will provide growers with the opportunity to tell about “the severe economic losses they have suffered from 20 years of unfair competition from Mexico. In addition to hearing grower testimony, the administration is seeking feedback on how it can remedy the unfair harm experienced by producers.”
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