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Mar 20, 2024
USApple discusses exports with ag secretary 

The U.S. Apple Association’s board of directors recently met with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and members of his leadership team at the USDA to discuss exports and other issues. 

Discussion of market access, agriculture labor and renewal of the farm bill were key topics of the meeting.

USApple board’s Brett Baker, from left, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and USApple board chair Steve Clement discuss trade and labor issues at the USDA.

“The USApple directors were anxious to thank Secretary Vilsack and his team for their hard work on our behalf,” Steve Clement, CEO of PNW Tree Fruit and chair of USApple’s board of directors, said in a news release. “That includes helping us regain a market presence in India — previously our second-largest export market — and purchasing a significant volume of apples for community food banks and other destinations. 

“Leveraging that surplus to help feed Americans is a win-win,” Clement said. “We also took the opportunity to share how desperate apple growers are for agricultural labor reform. The rapidly increasing cost of farm labor is untenable and threatening the future of multi-generational family orchards across the country. The discussion was open, specific, and productive.”

Others participants in the meeting included:

  • Alexis Taylor, under secretary for international trade
  • Jenny Lester Moffitt, under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs
  • Silvia Fabela, Vilsack’s senior advisor for ag labor

The U.S. apple industry impacts 150,000 jobs and is responsible for more than $23 billion in economic output. Historically, the U.S. has exported one-third of its apple crop; however, exports are at their lowest level in a decade.

USApple In addition to seeking Vilsack’s help with market access and agricultural adjustment purchases, the USApple board asked for assistance in fixing agriculture labor policy.

“The majority of apple growers are now in the H-2A program and experiencing spiraling costs and untenable regulations,” Jim Bair, USApple’s president and CEO, said in the release. “Making matters worse, there are new proposed regulatory changes that would add further burden and expense.

“Our board did a great job advocating for USDA to work with its agency partners to reform agriculture labor in a meaningful way,” Bair said. “We need a stable, adequate and predictable workforce for apple growers.” 

The group also discussed the importance of the farm bill and its renewal. Receiving additional Market Access Program funding for specialty crops is critical, as well as maintaining funding for research and other USDA programs that directly effect the industry, according to the release.

Members of the board finished the day on Capitol Hill educating legislators about the same issues, as part of USApple’s annual Fly-In.

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