Secretary of Ag Sonny Perdue Visits California Avocado Groves; Meets With Growers
- by Melissa De Leon Chavez
IRVINE, CA - The California Avocado Commission (CAC) recently gave U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, an up-close and personal look into the world of avocados. CAC Chairman John Lamb, CAC President Tom Bellamore, and grower Al Stehly, along with other CAC representatives, gave Perdue a tour of a Rancho Guejito Avocado Farm in Escondido, California, on July 15 to show him first-hand what goes on behind the scenes.
“On behalf of California avocado growers, I’d like to thank Secretary Perdue for the time and interest he expressed about our industry during his visit,” Lamb said. “We had a very productive meeting with the Secretary, who seemed very interested in helping with labor, water, and other issues facing California growers.”
The CAC representatives talked with Perdue about a number of significant concerns the commission and all avocado growers are facing, including water issues, trade issues, and labor challenges.
“We expressed to Secretary Perdue the significant challenges growers are having with limited labor availability and let him know that the situation is getting worse with the aging of existing workers and enforcement concerns,” said Bellamore, in a press release. “California avocado harvest crews are well-compensated, averaging $18 per hour or greater piece rate, but with agriculture labor availability approaching crisis levels, the industry needs a flexible guest worker program that allows the existing workforce to remain and one that provides access to new workers.”
Commission representatives went into detail about their concerns regarding California water availability, quality, and pricing, emphasizing the importance of increased statewide water storage capacity and easing of the Endangered Species Act restrictions to allow greater State Water Project Deliveries.
Trade issues came up during the tour, and representatives discussed the increase in avocado volumes coming from imports and export opportunities that includes the challenges faced in gaining access to certain foreign markets. Bellamore specifically implored Purdue to expedite access to China for California avocado trade.
But the tour was not just a discussion of issues, but a comprehensive look at the California avocado industry. Purdue learned about the modernization progress of the industry, including managed tree height, improved water efficiency, high-density plantings, and salt tolerant varieties. The Secretary also had a hands-on experience, learning first-hand the skill it takes to harvest avocados, using a picking pole to cut an avocado from a tree. Purdue made himself available after the tour to answer media questions from major networks and local San Diego press.
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