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A second round of testing for a "green" Michigan celery-shipping carton will begin July 15.

Gary Wruble, general manager of the Michigan Celery Cooperative Inc., headquartered in Hudsonville, MI, told The Produce News June 25, “We have spent a fair bit of time looking at packaging for the fresh product” to boost that industry by developing a recyclable carton. A first round of testing has been completed. With the July 2010 testing, “we will walk with this to make sure it works.” If so, “we will really launch it in 2011.”

Mr. Wruble wasn't specific about the nature of the package because “it is a proprietary technology owned by one of the companies we are working with.” But, he said, “It is equivalent in size to a wax carton and typically … the majority of celery is packed to RPCs [returnable plastic containers] or waxed cartons,” which are not recyclable. “They go to landfills or have special uses afterward. The opportunity was to … see if there was new technology to develop a new 'green’ carton that will be recycled. We are not there yet, but it is promising.”

Mr. Wruble said his primary focus at the celery cooperative is “to grow the processing side of our business. We are also looking at some value-added opportunities within the processing side.” Fresh celery typically represents 70-75 percent of the sales of Michigan’s crop.

As of June 25 in Michigan, celery planting was “on track. We have had a couple of setbacks in the last ten days with wet weather. But, all in all, planting is on track where it should be.” The celery heart harvest had begun and larger celery stalks were to begin harvest around July 4. The quality of Michigan celery “seems to be fine,” Mr. Wruble said.

“Acreage is very close to what it was in 2009,” he said. ”Our membership typically grows 1,100 to 1,200 acres of celery.”

Early market prices for California were “trending a little lower” in late June, but the Californians faced “a big question of freight and availability of freight,” Mr. Wruble said. “That’s a dynamic that needs to be watched real close. The whole freight dynamic will affect the produce business. Is the availability of trucks having a profound effect on freight rates?”

He added that truck rates change day to day but generally are higher than a year ago.

(For more on Michigan produce, see the July 12, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)