Fruit Industry Hukari named to fed panel

A Hood River orchardist will soon be voicing the concerns of Northwest farmers at the top levels of government.

Camille Hukari, president of Rodacamar Farms, was appointed earlier in February by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to the new Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee.

"I am delighted that Secretary Venemen has selected Camille to serve on this committee," said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. "With only 23 positions covering the entire U.S., it is a great tribute to have a fourth generation pear grower from Hood River at the table."

Hukari, who runs the 60-acre family farm in Pine Grove, said she was ecstatic about her new duties but also realized it carried a great amount of responsibility since she would be the sole representative from Oregon and Washington. Committee members serve two-year terms.

"I take this appointment very seriously and am looking forward to being an advocate and presenting our issues, which are very different from those of production crops," said Hukari.

She said the Oregon fruit and vegetable industry decided to better increase its odds of getting someone on the first-ever advisory committee by submitting only two candidates. They collectively chose Hukari and Carol Russell, a cranberry grower from Bandon, because both women represented "distressed crops." Then they got state agriculture agencies and both state and federal legislators to write support letters for these nominees.

That strategy paid off when Hukari learned that she had been chosen from among 179 individuals across the country. The committee is comprised of seven individuals representing fresh fruit and vegetable growers or shippers, four wholesalers, two brokers, two retailers, four processors and fresh cut processors, two food service suppliers, one trade association representative, and one state department of agriculture official.

"Few growers know more about specialty crop issues than Camille," said U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. "Camille has given me invaluable advice over the years, and I have no doubt that her considerable expertise will be of great value to the committee."

The advisory group's first meeting has been scheduled for April 16-17 in Washington. Hukari will not be paid for her new role, but will be reimbursed for travel expenses and per diem costs.

"This is a great opportunity to educate the USDA and to educate ourselves," said Hukari.

She will bring any new information back to her fellow Northwest fruit and vegetable growers in hopes of overcoming several bad market years.

"Camille's appointment could not come at a better time because fruit and vegetable growers in Oregon are suffering from low returns for their commodities and high production costs -- causing enormous financial losses not only to the growers and their families, but to Oregon's economy as well," said Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett.

While at the nation's capital, Camille, who describes herself as a "political animal," also plans to make a few stops at Congressional offices lobbying on behalf of Oregon and Washington farmers.

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