With nearly 500 people in attendance from 36 states, Canada, and Mexico, Robert Sakata accepted American Vegetable Grower’s 2014 Grower Achievement Award at United Fresh’s Washington Public Policy Conference, which is taking place through Wednesday, Sept. 10, in Washington, DC.
Sakata, who is the president of Sakata Farms, located in Brighton, CO, produces more than 1,600 acres of vegetables including sweet corn, onions, cabbage, and pinto beans. He is the president of the Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers’ Association, the president of the Colorado Onion Association, and is involved in numerous industry organizations.
Sakata said he was honored to receive the award, and told the crowd about the history of the farm, including how his father, Bob, started the operation after being held in an internment camp near the end of World War II. Sakata mentioned that in spite of everything his father went through, he is living the American dream. He also went on to say that educating the public about the critical need for agriculture in our country will be paramount, as regulations impacting ag continue to mount and the need for labor increases. “I know I’m preaching to the choir, though,” he said with a laugh.
To read more about Sakata Farms, click here.
The Need For Reform
Immigration reform was a focus of one of the sessions at the conference, and frustrations seemed to mount when it was mentioned that labor issues may not be addressed any time in the near future.
USDA’s agricultural labor affairs coordinator, Peter Feather, said there are about 1 million ag workers in the U.S. and about half of them are thought to be illegal.
Given the circumstances, what can you do? Continue to let your voice be heard, said Oscar Gonzales, deputy assistant secretary for administration at USDA. Growers need to get the word out about ag’s role in immigration reform.
Specifically, he told attendees that it is important to make sure they discuss their needs regarding labor and immigration when they visit their Congressmen on Capitol Hill during the conference’s congressional visits. He added that he is willing to take back any feedback on immigration reform to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“We know you need a reliable work force,” added Felicia Escobar, the special assistant to the president on immigration policy. “We need Democrats and Republicans in this discussion if we are going to move immigration forward.”