At the March 23 hearing in the Senate Agriculture Committee on the nomination of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to be the next Secretary of Agriculture, top fresh produce issues were a recurring theme, particularly trade, immigration, and nutrition. Senators representing states across the country urged Governor Perdue to be a voice for agriculture in the administration on the issue of trade, underscoring the concerns expressed within our sector about recent trade policy announcements such as the U.S. withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the pursuit of renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). With recent government data suggesting fresh fruit and vegetable exports are valued at nearly 7.5 billion dollars, and Canada and Mexico being the top two destination countries for U.S. fruit and vegetable exports, the incoming secretary’s commitment to agriculture trade will be critical to helping produce providers be successful.
During the hearing, senators from top specialty crop states such as New York and Vermont noted the enormous difficulties agriculture providers, such as fresh fruit and vegetable producers, have in securing and maintaining an experienced, dedicated workforce. They also urged Governor Perdue, should his nomination be confirmed, to address agriculture’s immigration priorities to help ensure access to qualified workers. Specifically, Governor Perdue was urged to use his authority as Secretary to pursue improvements to the current federal agriculture guest worker program, H-2A. Governor Perdue stated his commitment to address labor challenges in agriculture and stated that he believed that immigration and trade were two issues that he would like to address “post-haste.”
In addition, several Senators expressed their support for important nutrition programs such as SNAP, asking Perdue to confirm his support for these programs, which he did.
A full Senate vote on Perdue’s nomination has not yet been scheduled, but is expected in the coming weeks. He is expected to be confirmed and United Fresh coordinated a letter to Senate leadership in support of Perdue’s nomination.