Mac Riggan, Cindy Jewell, and Brock Nemecek Discuss United Fresh's Washington Conference
WASHINGTON, D.C. - With a number of policy questions in the air that carry weight in the produce industry’s future, all eyes are on this year’s Washington Conference and what we all hope produce might take home.
“The great thing about this conference and the wide range of attendees is that each person making the trip to Washington comes with their own story, passion for our industry, and position on issues they bring with them,” Cindy Jewell, Vice President of Marketing for California Giant Berry Farms and Chairman of the Board for United Fresh tells me.
Cindy explains that the industry divides and conquers in setting up groups meeting with lawmakers: “I might be focused on talking about nutrition programs, but the person sitting next to me might be anxious to talk about NAFTA or food safety regulations that need improvements with regard to investigations of outbreaks. The staff does a great job of preparing all of us with background on several issues and what we are asking of legislators during our visits. It’s all about being heard and making sure we bring our stories to those making decisions that affect our livelihood!”
When I ask Cindy about key focuses of this year's conference she’d like to highlight, she tells me that immigration reform has been on the list for as long as she can remember: “It looks like this year we might be coming together with a new approach that I am excited about. We are going to meet and discuss the option of going on the offense for a change and maybe even work together to craft our own bill addressing true reform that works for ag—developed by people in ag, rather than waiting for those in D.C. to craft solutions for us—which sounds exciting to me. There are some other issues that we can affect, like NAFTA and the Farm Bill, to ensure specialty crops are being considered as these major deals move forward.”
Mac Riggan, Director of Marketing for Chelan Fresh, shares that this year in particular presents an opportunity to look at new avenues of export and how to manage the situation at hand.
"This will be my first time going in a few years knowing it will benefit me and my company. I’m curious, like everyone else, to see what’s going on with current trade policy changes and how we can navigate our way through them. I’m hoping, in light of changes this year, this will help me steer our company through it,” Mac tells me. “It’s a time to meet my colleagues and competitors to see how we can adapt to the changes and find new homes for our fruit. Too often we don’t do what we need to until we are forced. If and when China is viable again for trading fruit, that will create more demand. I can’t change what has happened, you can only do the best you can and I tend to look at things glass half full.”
Cindy, too, says that in regards to import/export policies, there is a meeting with a task force at the conference to talk about how the industry can create a stronger advocacy group for our international members.
“The staff at United has been working with some of our members on how can we can expand our international trade support. There are so many international issues we can support beyond expanding a trade show or marketing our products, so I am excited to be part of a discussion that will continue to show the value that United and its member services brings to our industry every day. Stay tuned,” she comments.
Brock Nemecek, North America Marketing Manager for T&G Global Limited also looks forward to what can be achieve by bringing our industry together on Capitol Hill.
"It’s important that our industry speak to our congressional representatives in a united voice, especially as we’re facing so many complex issues that affect all aspects of our business," Nemecek explains. "My hope is that, through the United Washington Conference, we’re able to influence our leaders to drive and adopt policies that will eliminate challenges, and increase opportunities and growth for our industry. I’m excited to be here representing the apple industry specifically as tree fruit is quite vulnerable to some of the trade policies being discussed and developed recently."
This year, United Fresh is introducing several new networking, education, and advocacy events to keep pace with the ever-changing political climate. According to the conference calendar, attendees will join industry executives at the new Global Trade Forum, two days of Congressional Meetings, the Fresh Festival on Capitol Hill, and the United Fresh & Congressional Friends Afternoon at the Ball Game with the United Fresh Board of Directors.
“I have had a couple of conversations with people recently about attending this conference and its interesting how some people say, ‘I don’t go because nothing ever gets done.’ Being the eternal optimist, I just don’t see it that way. If we don’t go to Washington D.C. and speak directly to lawmakers about our issues, concerns, challenges and wants—then who will? If we don’t speak for ourselves, who do we expect to speak on our behalf?” Cindy concludes. “I look at it like voting: If I don’t vote, then I don’t get an opinion, and I certainly can’t complain when something doesn’t go my way. So, I say—show up, be heard, and make a difference.”
It all kicks off today. AndNowUKnow will continue to bring you the latest as we look to see where the pieces fall as the industry brings its voice together in Washington D.C.