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Industry leaders, key politicians and American heroes are among those scheduled to address the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association's 66th annual convention Sept. 27-29 in Palm Beach, FL.

On Sept. 28, a session focusing on industry efforts to ensure rapid, accurate traceability throughout the supply chain was to feature Gary Fleming, vice president of industry technology and standards for the Newark, DE-based Produce Marketing Association; William Pool, manager of agricultural production and research for Wegman's Food Markets Inc.; and Alan Newton, vice president of information services for A. Duda & Sons Inc. in Oviedo, FL. On Sept. 29, Jim Mulhern of Washington, DC-based Watson & Mulhern LLC was scheduled to lead a crisis planning and communications session dealing with risk assessment and crisis management public relations.

That same day, Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, and Hank Giclas, vice president of strategic planning, science and technology for Western Growers Association, were to conduct a session on sustainable agriculture and how it may shape the future of the produce industry.

"I think the sessions are going to be very timely and relevant with everything that's going on in Washington and with the industry," Lisa Lochridge, director of the FFVA's Public Affairs Division, told The Produce News Sept. 23. "We've put together some really good panelists. We talked to our members and asked what they most wanted to hear about, and they said those are the topics that are a priority for them. I think that shows that growers are paying attention to the need to be prepared, and they want the tools to do that. We're very happy to be able to give them a very sound overview. It dovetails with some of the other things that have been top-of-mind in the industry, and food safety is certainly one of them."

The focus on crisis management is an outgrowth of industry incidents that have become big news, like the Salmonella outbreak of 2008. Originally blamed on Florida tomatoes, the source later was proven to be peppers from Mexico, but the Florida tomato industry was scarred.

"Although you never want something like that happening with your company, you do need to be prepared nevertheless," Ms. Lochridge said. "The way you handle things both internally and externally in the first 24 hours or so of any crisis - that's certainly been on everybody's mind. It's just a matter of good operational strategy to have a broad plan in place for whatever might happen."

U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL) was to serve as keynote speaker at the convention's traditional Cracker Breakfast Sept. 29. When he was elected to the House in 2001 at age 26, Rep. Putnam was the youngest member of Congress. He is seeking the post of Florida commissioner of agriculture in the 2010 election.

Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise was scheduled to speak at the FFVA awards luncheon Sept. 29. Mr. Haise was slated to fly the lunar landing module on that ill-fated mission. He was also scheduled to be commander for the cancelled Apollo 19 mission but later flew five flights as commander of the space shuttle Enterprise.

About 250 participants have registered for this year's convention, up from 230 last year, according to Ms. Lochridge.