International Fresh Produce Association CEO Cathy Burns Calls for Immigration Reform at Leading the Way Conference; Stefanie Katzman Comments
WASHINGTON, DC - International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) Chief Executive Officer Cathy Burns recently took to the stage at the National Immigration Forum’s 2022 Leading the Way Conference in Washington, DC. In her presentation, she continued the association’s push for immigration reform, spotlighting immigration as a pillar of agricultural and economic prosperity.
“The fruit and vegetable industry employs 2.2 million workers in all 50 states and added nearly $340 billion to the national output in 2022. We can’t do that without a reliable workforce,” said Burns during a fireside chat with Bloomberg Law’s Andrew Kreighbaum. “Without immigration reform that ensures ongoing access to a skilled, dedicated workforce, we can’t grow, or scale, or continue meeting consumer demand.”
Labor shortages have been among the central challenges impacting the United States’ fresh produce supply chain, a release explained. To help alleviate this issue, Burns called on the Senate to consider the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA), which passed in the House of Representatives in 2021.
“Farmers can only grow what they can pick,” added Burns. “Our current immigration system is shackling our ability to increase food production in the United States because our growers are unsure if they will have the workers they need to plant, grow, and harvest crops. Some of our members have actually gone out of business because they can’t get the workers they need.”
With rising inflation, Burns also argued that immigration reform has become a kitchen table issue for consumers as they face the rising cost of food.
“The number one concern to the consumer right now is inflation. Those of you who will be shopping for your Thanksgiving meal next week are going to pay 20 percent higher than you paid last year,” she said. “With a legal immigrant workforce, you can actually lower inflation and drive up American wages. The time is now to pass the FWMA.”
IFPA members took to Capitol Hill this week for meetings with Senate offices to discuss the impact of labor shortages on farms of all sizes. There, Stefanie Katzman, Executive Vice President of S. Katzman Produce and a member of the IFPA board, explained that the lack of a predictable workforce is a significant barrier to an efficient fresh produce supply chain.
“My business as a wholesaler is located in the middle of the supply chain. I speak to hundreds of farmers every day. That’s how I know that the farm labor crisis is not just a farming crisis. It’s affecting the entire supply chain right down to the American consumer,” said Katzman. “In order to make fresh fruits and vegetables affordable and accessible, we need the labor force to [be modernized]. So we’re asking all Senators because this has to happen now. We’ve been working on this for months and months, and now we’re down to just days. So, we’re asking for your support and action, because action speaks louder than words, and that’s what we need to get this done.”
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