A rousing speech by Georgia Congressman Sanford Bishop highlighted the recent Southeast Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association meeting in Savannah, Ga.

Bishop, a multi-term congressman from south Georgia, has been a staunch supporter of agricultural programs in the Southeast during his tenure in the House. He spoke out against government regulations that limit farmers’ ability to produce enough food to feed the world.

Proposed changes to the H2A farm labor program could have devastating effects on smaller acreage growers in the Southeast. Bishop says about 40 percent of the fruit and vegetable growers in his district use H2A labor.

Changing the minimum wage component of the program, in particular, would put many growers out of business, because of the labor intensive nature of growing fruits and vegetables.

“We must end these frivolous lawsuits brought forth by migrant leader legal service programs. I will continue to bring these issues to the constant attention of Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis.

“Last summer we went directly to her and tried to make a case for our farmers in the Southeast. Though we didn’t get everything like we want it, we have made progress and we will continue to press the issue to provide some relief for our farmers,” Bishop says.

The Georgia congressman says he is particularly driven to help the many farmers who were impacted by the salmonella scare that was widely attributed to tomatoes. Though peppers, not tomatoes, proved to be the source of the outbreak, tomato growers across the Southeast suffered greatly because of the misinformation.

“When it was all said and done, the FDA’s warning against eating tomatoes cost Georgia tomato growers $14 million and tomato growers nationwide more than $125 million lost,” Bishop said.

“Greg Murray, a Bainbridge, Ga. tomato grower came to Washington and testified before Congress and explained at the farmer level the problem of not having a good, sound policy in place to deal with food-borne disease issues.

“As a consequence of his and other farmer input, we will continue to work with Secretary Vilsack and other government officials to put into place policies that will prevent this kind of devastation for our farmers from ever happening again,” he added.

Bishop says the upcoming 2012 farm bill will be more difficult than ever before. “This is a census year and every year we move toward a farm bill and we take a census more and more representatives come from urban areas.

“Fewer and fewer elected politicians represent production agriculture, therefore, fewer understand what it takes to produce the highest quality and most abundant food and fiber in the industrialized world. They take it for granted,” Bishop warns.