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Watermelon Convention brings leaders of the industry together

The National Watermelon Association will hold its annual convention Feb. 22-25 in Lake Tahoe, NV, with the theme of “A Taste of Tahoe.”
Bob Morrissey, executive director for the National Watermelon Association in Lakeland, FL, said the convention will touch on some of the major issues of the day, including labor, FSMA and the industry’s own watermelon food-safety guidance.  Our-very-own-Mardi-Gras-parade-complete-with-NWA-beadsThe National Watermelon Association's very own Mardi Gras parade complete with NWA beads.

“Additionally, we will continue our IMPACT HOUR, which is a series of seven-minute presentations by member companies designed as a sort-of mini-TED Talks,” Morrissey said. “We will also inaugurate Class II of our Hall of Fame, which will include the original 18 forefathers of this storied association. These 18 men gathered together in March of 1914 in Atlanta to create the Melon Distributors Association, the original name of the National Watermelon Association.”    

It’s no secret to those in the membership that the No. 1 concern throughout the entire industry remains and continues to be labor. Questions expected to be discussed throughout the convention include the following: “How do we gain access to a viable workforce?” “How do we gain access to a federally approved program that will provide the workers that we need to provide a quality crop?” “When will Washington finally create and approve a program that will allow migrant workers to ‘legally’ come into our country, apply for jobs that Americans will not fill, and help us to provide food to our country, and abroad?”
“Labor is far and above our number one challenge that we face year after year. And frankly, the H2-A program is not the answer, but rather a hindrance,” Morrissey said. “The users of H2-A in our industry are few and far between, because the unfilled contracts, lateness of filling them with workers and the accompanying costs put those employers at a disadvantage from a production cost standpoint. We would be far better off to have the U.S. Department of Agriculture handle ag labor, for they understand our plight better than any other federal agency.”

Other talking points that will be discussed at the convention include topics such as seed; grafting technology; trucking logistics; pallet usage; new chemical application; promotions; and association news.

“The National Watermelon Association is a volunteer membership group that does not represent the industry, but rather is member-centric. We invite growers, handlers, shippers and all means of suppliers to join us, if they so choose,” Morrissey said. “We are different than moist any other crop produce group for one specific result. We have designed our association to operate as a family would. We come together at our annual convention to conduct association business, raise some funds (in a most unique way through our annual auction), provide some education, and enjoy fellowship (and some fun).”

Many of those who attend are competitors with one another, but the family aspect makes it unique in Morrissey’s opinion.

“For the most part, the competitive juices of our world are set aside, and they come together for the betterment of this association,” he said. “Competitors break bread together; they pray together (at every major event at our annual convention); and they support the on-going efforts of the association, together. It is by far the most unique group that I have ever seen, and we welcome any company that is not a current member to take a look, and see for themselves what we are all about. Every company has choices in the association business, and we believe that we are a prime choice for them to consider.”
For many of the grower-shipper members, the annual convention is one of the only times that they truly “vacation” and bring their families, and Morrisey noted it usually attracts up to four generations.

In 2018 it will be in Nashville, TN; 2019 on the Big Island of Hawaii in Waikoloa; 2020 at Disney in Lake Buena Vista, FL; and in 2021 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.   

“We face challenges every year, every month and every day on behalf of our members, and we are honored to be able to do so in Washington, in the fields, and across the USA and beyond,” Morrisey said.