Two issues at the forefront of vegetable and specialty crop producers in the Southeast is H-2A and imports from countries like Mexico. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack discussed both issues and sympathizes with growers in the Southeast.
“We’re looking at ways in which we’re able to provide some help and assistance to them under the COVID relief packages that were not specifically targeted to them. No. 2, in terms of labor, no question, serious issues, serious challenges that agriculture faces,” Vilsack said. “That’s why I’m certainly happy to see the House of Representatives pass the Farmer Worker Modernization Act, which essentially creates an avenue for a stable, mature and predictable workforce that makes improvements to the H-2A program that makes it easier for farmers to have that stable workforce, dependable workforce. At the same time, it allows those workers the opportunity to basically come out from the shadows.”
Vilsack said he hopes the Senate will take the legislation up, noting it is a bi-partisan issue.
“These are the workers that folks in the Southeast are depending upon. These are folks that are essentially responsible for picking a lot of our fruits and vegetables in a number of different areas across the country. It just makes sense that farmers have that stable and secure workforce,” Vilsack added.
As for imports, it’s an issue that seems to worsen daily. Southeast farmers accuse Mexico of dumping produce and creating a competitive disadvantage that growers can’t compete with.
“On the issue of imports, look, it’s always a delicate balance. We want to make sure that we are able to ensure that our producers have market opportunities. But at the same time, part of what we do, obviously, is to export. We want to make sure that there’s a balance relationship there,” Vilsack said.