In Texas, cowboys do not retire — they ride off into the sunset. John McClung, president and chief executive officer of the Texas International Produce Association since 1999 and a former United Fresh and national government official, recently packed his saddlebags and has officially turned over the reins of TIPA to Bret Erickson, who had already been serving in that capacity for the past year-plus.
Despite McClung’s protestations that he “didn’t want any *&^%$ party, no @#$%* speeches, and no #$%&@ parting gifts or awards,” more than 50 well-wishers turned up at the Nuevo Santander Art Gallery in McAllen, TX, to provide an appropriate sendoff for the man who played a pivotal role in expanding the Texas produce deal across international borders.
Said Erickson, “We showered him with praise and he seemed to have a great time catching up with a lot of his old friends, some of whom he hadn’t seen in a while.”
The setting was particularly fitting since McClung, an accomplished woodworker, has several pieces on display in the gallery. He will have more time to pursue that activity moving forward and also looks forward to focusing more on the bucolic bed and breakfast he and wife, Judy, operate near McAllen as a getaway for birdwatchers.
McClung became president of TIPA (then Texas Produce Association) in 1999 and oversaw the Texas Produce Export Association; Texas Gift Pack Shippers Association; Texas Produce Marketing Cooperative; TexaSweet Citrus Industries Inc.; and three federal marketing orders for South Texas (citrus, dry onions and melons). He also served on the Agricultural Trade Advisory Committee of U.S. Department of Agriculture, is a member of the Texas Border Coalition and is active on boards of the Fruit & Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corporation, Frontera Audubon Society and Friends of the Wildlife Corridor.
McClung began his career in 1968 as a general assignment reporter for United Press International based in California. After completing his masters at the University of Minnesota in 1971 he joined Miller Publishing, a subsidiary of the American Broadcasting Co., and in 1973 was named that operation’s Washington bureau chief.
In 1981 he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as director of Information & Legislative Affairs for the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service. In 1984, he became USDA’s overall director of Information.
In 1987, McClung became senior director of Public Affairs for United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association (now United Fresh Produce Association) and in 1990 was named vice president for Government Relations and Public Affairs.
Prime Time Sales LLC in Coachella, CA, which specializes in bell peppers grown in both Mexico and the United States, first ran trials of mini-sweet peppers as an expansion of its line in mainland Mexico during the 2010-11 season, crossing the products into Nogales, AZ.
The trials went well, and the company increased production in 2011-12 and again in 2012-13, according to Mike Aiton, marketing manager.
This year, the company has again increased its mini-sweet pepper production, Aiton said Nov. 19. “We have never had as many mini-peppers in Mexico as we have this winter. That is one item we have grown considerably across the board, maybe 20 percent from last year.”
The little mini-sweets are typically about one and a half inches long, he said. Like the company’s full-sized colored bell peppers, the mini-sweets come in red, yellow and orange.
“Right now, the mini peppers are very active [with] very high prices,” Aiton said. “In advance of the holidays, the markets are high” as demand exceeds supply. “We are just now coming into what I would call good volume, and it is going to get bigger for us with every passing week,” he said. “[It is] a great item. We have quite a good following on that particular item right now.”
Apart from the mini-sweets, “our program is largely unchanged” from last year for the Nogales deal, Aiton said.
Prime Time’s Mexican production consists of red, yellow, orange and green bell peppers plus the mini-sweets and, in addition, round vine ripe tomatoes, Roma tomatoes and grape tomatoes.
The acreage this season is “fairly static” on the bell peppers and up about 20 percent on the tomato products, but while the bell peppers are grown in the state of Sinaloa in mainland Mexico, the tomato products are grown on the Baja Peninsula. They cross into the United Sates at San Diego rather than Nogales.
Prime Time has both hothouse and field-grown bell peppers, Aiton said. “We have both elongated and blocky” styles. “The biggest item we have are the field grown elongated red peppers. Next is green bells, then our hothouse varieties — red, yellow and orange — are next in terms of volume.”
The company began receiving hothouse peppers from Sinaloa in early November. “Volume is going to continue to increase as we move deeper into the season,” Aiton said.
The green bell peppers were expected to start around the first week in December, with the field-grown red bells starting around Christmastime. Those are “fairly typical starting dates,” he said.
Prime Time was currently receiving tomato products from its grower in the Vizcaino area of Baja. “Those are all loading in San Diego right now” and will go all the way through winter, he said. The company also has a spring deal out of La Paz in southern Baja.
One advantage for Prime Time in its Mexican production, according to Aiton, is that it is very consistent with the company’s California production. “The packinghouse that we have in Sinaloa, for example, is the exact duplicate of the one we have in Coachella,” he said. “The standards are the same. The people are the same. The policies and procedures are the same. Our customers tell us it is very seamless to move from one area to another just because of the consistency and the quality and the sizing and the packs that we put up. So having complete control, I think, is an advantage for us.”
Victor Tokar, who was one of the pioneers of pre-ripening avocados, died on Sunday, Dec. 15, after a defiant battle with cancer. “Vic worked with my cousin Gil Henry to open up the very first avocado-ripening room in California,” said Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado. “Vic was an expert in not only ripening but all cold storage technology. He worked with many different crops. He was a very, very nice man.”
Born on Aug. 21, 1943, Mr. Tokar grew up in a farming family in Orange County, CA., and graduated from California Polytechnic University at Pomona in the mid-1960s. His degree was in agricultural science and he worked in many different agricultural sectors before finding his niche as a cold storage and ripening expert.
“He was very instrumental in establishing ripening rooms all over the country,” said Steve Barnard, president of Mission Produce, Oxnard. “Gil Henry was the first one to install a room but Victor was the guy who pushed the idea. He was very passionate about avocado ripening.”
For the most part he worked as a consultant for all of the top avocado packers in California as they put up ripening rooms within the state and at distribution points throughout the country. He also worked on other crops, including pears and tomatoes. For the past five years, Mr. Tokar has been overseeing the avocado ripening process for The Cheesecake Factory at Moonland Produce in Los Angeles. He was active in the business up until a few days prior to his death.
He is survived by his wife, Dodie; daughter, Victoria; and stepdaugter, Vanessa, who reside in El Segundo, CA.
The Georgia Watermelon Association is currently making plans for its annual meeting and watermelon queen competition to be held Jan. 24- 26 at the Sea Palms Golf & Tennis Resort in St. Simons, GA. The event offers exhibits, networking and recreational opportunities, and educational sessions designed to bring the most up-to-date and relevant information to the watermelon industry.
The meeting offers several informative educational sessions for watermelon production. Continuing education credits are available. Additionally, a Georgia Watermelon Association meeting with Rich Chastain, president, will also be held.
Other special events are planned for the conference as well. Friday afternoon is open to all attendees, and the President's Welcome Reception with entertainment will be held on Friday evening at the resort.
Following the Saturday educational sessions the traditional seed-spitting contest will be held. Saturday afternoon wraps up with a lunch buffet, live auction and reception.
The event concludes Saturday evening with the much-anticipated watermelon queen contest and dinner. The winner of the contest will represent Georgia's watermelon industry and association in more than 50 promotions during her reign as Georgia Watermelon Queen. At each appearance she will educate the consumers and media of the nutritional and economical value of watermelons.
For more information, contact Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Watermelon Association, at 877/994-3842 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The United Fresh Produce Association is now accepting nominations for the 2014 United Fresh Retail Produce Manager Awards program. The program will honor 25 outstanding retail produce managers at the United Fresh 2014 convention June 10-13 in Chicago.
The Retail Produce Manager Awards Program pays special recognition to produce managers on the front line in supermarkets working every day to increase sales and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Established in 2005, this will mark the 10th year of the program, which has been generously supported by founding sponsor Ready Pac Foods Inc.
Since the program's inception, 200 produce managers from 70 different retail banners have been honored for their commitment to customer satisfaction, innovative merchandising, produce-related community outreach and recognition among company peers. Nominations are now being accepted for the 2014 program; nomination forms may be accessed online and must be received by Feb. 28.
"This program is an incredible opportunity for retailers everywhere to put forth their top produce managers as a chance for them to be recognized as leaders in their field," said Chairman of United's Retail-Foodservice Board Randy Scott, category manager produce for Delhaize America. "For the winning produce managers, this is more than an award. This is an affirmation of their hard work and a thank you for their tremendous commitment to our industry."
This year, 25 award winners, along with their corporate produce directors, will receive complimentary airfare, hotel accommodations and registrations to the United Fresh 2014 convention. The winners will be honored at the Produce Celebration Gala on Wednesday, June 11, where five grand prize winners will be announced as recipients of an additional $1,000 cash prize.
"Ready Pac takes great pride in recognizing the industry's leading produce managers through this program," said Tony Sarsam, CEO of Ready Pac Foods Inc. "These men and women are the face of our industry to the consumer and we greatly appreciate their exceptional work and commitment."
"It has been amazing to see the growth of this program and the positive impact it has had, not only on the winners, but on their companies, and the broader retail and produce industries," said Victoria Backer, United Fresh senior vice president of member services, foundation. "We are incredibly grateful to Ready Pac for their support of this program over the past 10 years and look forward to making 2014 a spectacular experience."