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USDA releases six-month progress report on 2014 farm bill

WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released on Wednesday a six-month progress report on the 2014 farm bill that includes updates on scores of hard-fought specialty crop programs.

Since the bill was signed into law on Feb. 7, Vilsack said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made “tremendous progress” in implementing the massive legislation, such as by distributing critical disaster assistance to farmers in record time and developing new risk-management programs for producers.

USDA issued updates on a slew of critical programs, many of which have expanded over the years as a result of the growing influence of the produce industry.

Under the Horticulture title of the farm bill, USDA said it announced, on April 17, the availability of $66 million in specialty crop block grants, and, on April 3, $48.1 million for plant pest and disease management projects. A day later, USDA published an interim rule that allowed bulk containers of apples to be shipped to Canada without U.S. inspection.

Under the Trade title, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service announced $9 million was available from the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program, and later expanded the range of projects funded by the program. In April, FAS announced 2014 funding for the Market Access Program, and 62 organizations received $171.8 million for projects.

The Nutrition title also houses programs advocated for by the produce industry during the last battle over the 2014 farm bill.

For example, USDA announced plans July 21 to launch a pilot project in up to eight states that tests ways to give states flexibility in using USDA food entitlement dollars in their competitive procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables, including fresh-cut products. The goal of the project is to develop additional ways schools can use entitlement dollars to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, while using existing commercial distribution centers, USDA said.

USDA is also moving ahead with a pilot project during 2014-2015 to test schools participating in the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program to offer canned, frozen or dried fruits and vegetables.

On the research front, USDA announced several projects under way this year, including a $6.9 million grant to Michigan State University on pollinator research aimed at helping specialty crops.

USDA is working on doling out the $125 million for citrus disease research tucked into the farm bill spanning the next five years, and has made appointments to the newly named Citrus Disease Subcommittee, housed under the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education & Economics Advisory Board.  

“Thanks to the hard work of thousands of USDA employees across the country, we are continuing to get new initiatives off the ground and make important reforms to existing programs that are helping to boost the country’s economy,” Vilsack said.

Peru and U.S. have symbiotic asparagus relationship

Peru is one of the larger producers of asparagus in the world and the United States is the largest consumer. The two countries need each other.

The Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association revealed that in 2013, Peruvian growers sent 403 million pounds of asparagus to the United States. That represented almost 50 percent of U.S. asparagus and about two-thirds of Peru’s exports.

While Peru does have growing markets for its product in Europe,Priscilla-LlerasPriscilla Lleras Asia and other countries, none can move product like it can be moved in the United States.

“We are the main market for Peruvian asparagus,” said Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., based in Secaucus, NJ, speaking of the U.S. market in general. “Europe can move a few pallets but no one can take 10,000 cases and move it like we can.”

Priscilla Lleras, coordinator for PAIA, said that recent “survey results conclude that U.S. shoppers are adding asparagus to their carts more than in the past making asparagus the number three ‘most popular’ item that consumers say they are now buying.

As such, the PAIA’s 2014/2015 Category Management Plan Outline for Fresh Peruvian Asparagus specifically includes statistics relating to market summaries, trends, nutritional facts and consumer positioning. The plan provides fresh-market asparagus consumption key demographics and suggestions regarding displays, as well as promotional/advertising ideas that offer retailers with creative fresh strategies to increase sales of Peruvian asparagus.

“The Category Management Plan Outline for Fresh Peruvian Asparagus is a resource tool that industry and retailers will use to sell more asparagus,” said Lleras. “The plan contains statistics, trends and strategies that will equip retailers and the industry at large with the most updated information in the category. The plan also contains the necessary summary information of the health benefits, value and convenience of fresh Peruvian asparagus that should make Peruvian asparagus a staple for every U.S. household.”

The plan is available to retailers and others from any member of the Peruvian Asparagus Importer’s Association or by contacting Lleras at

For the current season, Walter Yager, CEO Alpine Fresh is PAIA’s East Coast co-chair, while Brian Miller, president of Gourmet Trading Co. is West Coast co-chair.

China reopens doors to California citrus

California citrus will be permitted entry into China more than 14 months after shipments were disallowed due to a discovery of brown rot in some shipments, according to California Citrus Mutual, based in Exeter, CA.

The industry received verbal notice, which was confirmed in writing on Aug. 4, that the Chinese market is now open for California citrus, according to a CCM statement.

"It has been over 14 months since we had official access to one our larger export markets," Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, said in a press release. "The credit for this final agreement must go to USDA/APHIS and their continued efforts to reach a mutually satisfactory goal. Obviously industry members urged a strong response after the apparent agreement last November fell through, but actually USDA and the APHIS team needed little nudging. They recognized the importance of the market and they were steadfast in support of our industry."

The Chinese market is one of the industry's largest export markets and is growing, according to CCM. Each year, 4 million to 5 million cartons are shipped and the number has been increasing with demand growing. South Korea and Canada continue to lead in terms of cartons received, but China is gaining on both as an export destination. The primary varieties shipped are Navel oranges, lemons and Valencia oranges.

Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association names Tighe, Aerts to new positions

Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association President Mike Stuart has announced two important staff changes that will enhance FFVA's ability to provide expert knowledge and quality services to its members.

Sonia Tighe has joined join the FFVA staff as director of membership, effective Aug. 1. For the past several years, Tighe has served FFVA in a consulting role as executive director of the Florida Specialty Crop Foundation.

Sonia-TigheSonia TigheIn 2011, her association responsibilities expanded with the successful launch of the Emerging Leader Development Program. In her full-time staff role, Tighe will take on full responsibility for all aspects of membership recruitment, retention and administration in addition to her previous duties.

Mike-Aerts-8Mike AertsAlso effective Aug. 1, Mike Aerts, formerly director of membership, took the position of director of production and supply chain management. He will focus his time and energy on two critical areas of importance to FFVA members: pest management and food safety. Aerts also will continue his administrative responsibilities with the sweet corn exchanges and the management of supply chain issues on behalf of FFVA membership.

Tighe is chair of the Florida Ag Expo Committee, the Florida chapter of National Agri-Marketing Association, the RCMA Christmas Card Steering Committee and the Wedgworth Leadership Institute Advisory Council.

Aerts also served as assistant director of FFVA's Environmental & Pest Management Division for nine years. Prior to joining FFVA, he was an extension faculty member at the University of Florida's Food Science & Human Nutrition Department.

Oneonta kicks off Northwest pear season with 'big, clean' Bartletts


Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers of Wenatchee, WA, launched its 2014 pear season in early August with what Marketing Director Scott Marboe described as a very clean crop with “lots of 90 and larger” Bartletts.

“We are very excited to officially kick off the new season with 'Diamond Starr Growers' Bartlett pears,” Marboe said in a press release. “This is a clean and well-sized crop — one we know is going to bring great results to the category.”

The first pears are “big, green and clean, and they look great,” Marboe said. “There's not much in the way of small fruit, but a very strong market for cannery will keep a stable price floor.”

As the Bartletts lead off pear movement, other varieties are nearing harvest as well.

“Red Anjous and Starkrimson are really looking good this season,” Marboe said. “There is excellent color at this time of year, and we should start on the Starkrimsons about Aug. 11, then sail right along with the other varieties in a timely manner.”

Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers also grows, ships and markets Bosc, Forelle, Comice, Seckel, Asian and Red Sensation pears, with the “Diamond Starr Growers” label on cartons, totes and bags.

Bartletts, Starkrimsons and Red Sensations are available through December. Seckels, Comice and Asians ship during the winter months, and Red and Green Anjous typically ship from late summer or early fall into the next summer.

With custom promotions for its retail partners, Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers provides high-graphic point-of-sale for its “snaQ” programs for its pears and apples. Appealing to young consumers, the promo features kid-friendly illustrations on packaging and cards with information on varieties, health tips and eating suggestions.

In addition to its focus on health and nutrition through increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, Oneonta puts food safety at the top of its priorities, and its packinghouses are in compliance with food-quality and safety requirements. GAP standards have been implemented in growing, harvesting, warehousing, packing, storage and shipping.