By Clint Thompson
Blake Thaxton, executive director of the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (AFVGA), was pleased with the association’s annual conference and trade show that was held on Nov. 18-19 in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Attendance was great. The seminar sessions provided insight in various challenges the industry is facing. It was everything Thaxton had hoped for.
“We had over 200 people, which is pretty good for our conference. It was great down there in Gulf Shores, Ala. It was great weather. Our farmers seemed to enjoy the property and just getting away for a few days down there. It was all positive feedback from our growers,” Thaxton said.
The sessions were divided between tree fruit, small fruit, vegetables and marketing/farm management. One of the most anticipated talks of the two-day conference centered on Ag labor. The panel consisted of Dan Bremer, with Agworks H2 LLC; Mitt Walker, with Alabama Farmers Federation; Allison Crittenden, with American Farm Bureau Federation; and Alabama farmer Jeremy Calvert.
“I would say that was one of the highlight sessions of the whole conference. There were different perspectives on the labor situation that we’re all facing. We had the different parties share their perspective on what they’d like to see going forward. There was really good participation in that session,” Thaxton said. “When you talk to growers right now about what the hot topic issue is that keeps them up at night, it’s labor and supply chain issues and those kind of things. It’s been labor for a long time. It just doesn’t seem like it’s getting any better. It’s only getting worse.”
Improvements to H-2A
While the H-2A program is far from perfect, it connects farmers to a much-needed workforce.
“Jeremy, our farmer on the panel, he really emphasized that he would be sunk without the H-2A program. He wouldn’t be able to operate,” Thaxton said. “I wouldn’t say there were a lot of great ideas on how to fix it. I know Allison from American Farm Bureau mentioned having some opportunity for workers that can stay 12 months rather than just the 10 months. Agriculture is year-round. It’s not just a 10-month season.”
Producers also expressed concern about the Adverse Effect Wage Rate and its steady increase.
“Just talking about with inflation and that going up, we need some legislative action of some sort to freeze that (wage rate). That was one of the topics (Allison) brought up that American Farm Bureau is actively working. They’re trying to work with our legislators to get that frozen so that it’s not continuing to go up,” Thaxton said.