Pa. fruit growers take on industry

SALEM, Ohio – Pennsylvania’s fruit growers face the same hurdles as other farmers across the country. Skyrocketing land prices. Increasing urban sprawl. Threatening imports.
But a new statewide effort is planning to help them jump those obstacles.
The recently formed Pennsylvania Fruit Task Force added lack of foreign labor, overseas markets and research to that list.
Farmers have been beating down the door for help, said Mike Pechart, state department of agriculture policy director. Gov. Ed Rendell and the agriculture department put together this task force, he said, hoping it will be their answer.
Industry overview. The fruit industry makes up a significant portion of Pennsylvania’s agricultural revenue and it needs to stay that way, Pechart said.
Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the country in both apples and peaches, and fifth in grapes and pears, he said. Even though, the industry is in trouble.
Chinese apple imports have exploded, devastating U.S. apple production, Pechart said. In a state like Pennsylvania, where 442 millions pounds are produced each year, it’s particularly troublesome.
Take that on top of tighter borders and fewer migrant workers, and the Pennsylvania fruit industry needs help.
Getting the word out. The Pennsylvania Fruit Task Force might be the answer.
It was modeled after the Pennsylvania Dairy Task Force, which started several years ago with 30 members in an effort to save the state’s dairy industry and has now expanded to 130, Pechart said.
The idea is to have fruit growers, processors, researchers and government officials meet regularly and gather their concerns, identify their needs, and plan their future goals, said task force member and fruit grower Brad Hollabaugh.
This is all preliminary, Hollabaugh stressed, but he hopes the outcome leads to better state and federal support for the fruit industry and more profitability.
For example, he said recent immigration and labor legislation in Washington will have a negative impact on Pennsylvania fruit producers.
The task force can identify these concerns and provide policy input to state officials, he said.
“If we are to make good decisions, we need good information,” Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff said in a release after the group’s first meeting.
The timing of the task force coincides with officials who are on the verge of working on the 2007 farm bill, he said.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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