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Farm Fresh offering early cured sweet potatoes

With most North Carolina farms growing diverse crops, it's hard to pinpoint a solid start date for the harvest of North Carolina sweet potatoes, according to Steven Ceccarelli, the owner of Farm Fresh Produce Inc., based in Faison, NC.

Ceccarelli said Sept. 5 that about 10-20 percent of the sweet potato harvest was complete. But many growers also harvest tobacco, and from a farm management and labor point of view, tobacco harvest would precede sweet potatoes. Farmers of peanuts or other crops would have still other harvest schedules.

But for Ceccarelli, an early start is important, and he planned to be the season's first exporter of cured sweet potatoes. "We will have cured potatoes this weekend," which would be Sept. 6, he said.

The curing process can take between two and six weeks, depending on variables such as ambient temperature and humidity. The two-week process is a "quick cure" he said. "It takes a month for a full cure, but six weeks if you have unfavorable conditions."

Sweet potato curing rooms treat the roots with heat and high humidity. The procedure tightens the skin, which in turn tightens the inside flesh.

When the curing is done, "we flip a switch to turn the rooms into storages."

This year Farm Fresh is increasing its volume of Orleans, which is a new variety in North Carolina. A large part of Ceccarelli's sweet potato volume is sold overseas, where there is quite a bit of interest in the Orleans.

Most of Ceccarelli's export volume goes to the United Kingdom, Holland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Denmark. Russians have also been Farm Fresh customers, but Ceccarelli is expecting that strained U.S. relations with Russia will likely interfere with that trade for now.

Farm Fresh has hired Bobby Daughtry as its new export manager. Daughtry's presence will free others on the Farm Fresh staff to focus on domestic sales.

Last year's sweet potato crop had limited volume, so Ceccarelli didn't fulfill his preliminary plans of building Farm Fresh's domestic market in 2013. To have done so would have "irritated" new domestic customers with short orders while also not sitting well with sweet potato-hungry international customers, he said.

This year's sweet potato supplies will be bigger after a good growing season, so the timing is right to now develop the firm's domestic market for sweet potatoes.

Farm Fresh is a shipper and exporter of a wide variety of fresh produce commodities. But from Ceccarelli's North Carolina farm, another large-volume item — Napa cabbage — will be shipped when New Jersey growers are out of the deal.

Expanded Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference planned for 2015

The Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference returns to Savannah, GA, Jan. 8-11, 2015.  In 2014, the event hosted more than 3,000 produce industry members.secpma

Sponsored by the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association and the South Carolina Peach Council, the conference will be held at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center. The event features three days of educational workshops and seminars, a two-day trade show and several other evening networking opportunities.

During the three-day educational program, more than 85 hours of commodity-specific production training, pest-management information and marketing updates are offered to attendees. Commodities include peaches, vegetables, Vidalia onions, watermelons, muscadines, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.

New educational features will be offered at the 2015 event, including a vegetable grafting seminar and a farm tour.  Beth Oleson, director of education for GFVGA, said these new sessions will provide attendees with relevant and valuable information.

“The produce industry continues to evolve, and that creates new educational needs for growers and businesses,” Oleson said in a press release.  “These two additions to the conference program will address the increasingly trendy roadside market and agri-tourism industry, and provide key information on vegetable production.”

The trade show floor will also expand for the 2015 event. In 2014, trade show coordinators added 50 booths to accommodate growing exhibitor numbers.  This year, the trade show floor is making even more space for exhibitors within its nearly 85,000 square feet of exhibit hall.

“Expanding the trade show floor is an exciting process,” Charles Hall, GFVGA executive director, said in the release. “It means our exhibitors are finding it worth their time, and our attendees are enjoying their networking experience on the floor.”

Veracruz-Philly ocean service is 'in the red zone'

"When you have a band of stubborn, bull-headed, determined entrepreneurs, they make things happen," said Fred Sorbello, who recently stepped down from his role as president of Ship Philly First.

Such a position is quickly driving a direct refrigerated ocean freight service between Veracruz, Mexico, and the Philadelphia port community.

On Sept. 4, as many as 20 Ship Philly First members were holding a "call-a-thon" to develop southbound trade for a round-trip link, which is already rich in promised northbound refrigerated cargo. Between 250 and 300 prospective exporters would be contacted, Sorbello said.2014-6-23-Philadelphia-on-hThe Delaware River, seen here from the deck of a break bulk ship docked in the Gloucester Marine Terminal in Gloucester City, NJ, cumulatively makes one of the largest fruit ports in the United States.

Sorbello said the aforementioned aggressive membership of Ship Philly First has done a great deal of due diligence for steamship lines that potentially will offer a regular route between Mexico's east coast and the region that is the keystone for the greatest population center in the United States.

"Many steamship lines are interested and are doing their due diligence" toward creating the new service, he said.

Ship Philly First members' groundwork provides a strong lead for steamship companies' new business plans.

Sorbello said the first step toward fulfilling this concept was to talk to Philadelphia-area service providers — including government agencies — to confirm service from Veracruz was wanted, needed and practical. There was broad support at home, so work began with Mexico.

Ship Philly First is a non-profit, membership organization of private business owners who operate port-related companies in the Delaware Valley, the Mexican consulate of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Regional Port Authority and ProMexico, the economic development arm of Mexico.

The Mexican leaders helped open lines of communication in Mexico. The climax of this was a July 16-18 trade meeting in Veracruz. As The Produce News reported in July, the summit was a tremendous success, according to Carlos Giralt, Mexican consul of Philadelphia, and other Ship Philly First leaders who were involved in the meeting.  

On Sept. 4, Sorbello recounted that Mexican shippers of fresh fruits and vegetables — as well as other commodities — were extremely enthusiastic about having a direct, weekly refrigerated ocean container service to Philadelphia.

"There is no question that Mexicans want this service and they want it now," Sorbello said.

One produce shipper guaranteed that he would export 150 containers per week, 52 weeks a year, on such a service. Such an offer immediately "gets you to second base" in planning northbound cargo service from Veracruz, Sorbello said.

Going into the July meeting, Sorbello expected Mexican produce shippers to have seasonal offerings but he was pleasantly surprised by the ability there to ship fresh fruits and vegetables 52 weeks a year. Limes, pineapples and avocados are key year-round Mexican commodities for the U.S. market.

Sorbello said eight of Mexico's top meat exporters were involved in the Veracruz meeting and gave a great deal of support to "a more affordable delivery of goods" via a direct ocean service to the northeastern United States.

Sorbello's private company is Mullica Hill Group Cos., a Mullica Hill, NJ-based operation that specializes in warehousing meat.

Sorbello said the drought in the western United States has reduced herd sizes to modern-record all-time lows. Meanwhile, meat exporters Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico are gearing up to enjoy all-time high meat prices in the U.S. It will be at least a couple of years until the U.S. meat imbalance will correct itself, Sorbello said.

The Sept. 4 call-a-thon was an extension of the third step in preliminary diligence to create this service by finding adequate southbound cargo. Sorbello said that businesses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and southern New York state ship $10 billion in goods to Mexico each year. A fair portion of that would be suited for this new ocean service, he added. Fresh and frozen poultry and meat, auto parts, machinery and possibly pharmaceuticals are all potential southbound cargo from the Philadelphia area.

The southbound cargo may not be as time-sensitive as produce on the northbound route, which would run five days from port to port. Thus, steamship companies maybe don't need a direct route when returning to Mexico.

Sorbello outlined the advantages of this route. First, he said it offers an alternative to trucking. This was expressed by potential Mexican trade partners as a very key consideration. Using ocean freight not only reduces cost, but the Mexicans — and others — feel "there is only such much trade with border crossings only. It is more cost effective to go to the northeast U.S. directly from Veracruz to Philadelphia."

A regularly scheduled service is very attractive to traders. For example, if a ship discharges every Tuesday, importers can plan long-range sales programs accordingly.

Sealed ocean container shipping from plant to plant avoids problems with sealed tractor-trailers being opened for inspection at border crossing. There, the cold chain is broken and there is the potential for a security breach.    

Ship Philly First plans a follow-up export seminar in Philadelphia in October.    

Sorbello used a football analogy to describe Ship Philly First progress toward a direct link with Veracruz: "I feel we are definitely down in the red zone. We are about to get over the goal line."

Of course, that "band of stubborn, bull-headed, determined entrepreneurs" make an excellent offensive line.

Local PMA Fresh Summit ideal for California Avocado Commission

The California Avocado Commission is putting plans in place for the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit that will be held in CAC’s “backyard” at the Anaheim Convention Center Oct. 17-19. With the venue so close to California avocado groves, CAC expects many local growers to attend the show and will have a grower in its booth to answer attendee questions about the growing practices of the fruit.

CAC’s Fresh Summit Booth No. 2438 will focus on the care and craftsmanship that goes into cultivating California avocados and everything the new California avocado label represents.Michelle-Dudash-large-horizMichelle Dudash The label was introduced this year to help consumers distinguish the origin of the fruit at point of purchase. Consumer videos titled “A Look Behind the Label” and valuable avocado category data will be presented to existing and potential California avocado customers at the venue.

“CAC welcomes retailers and other Fresh Summit attendees to visit the California avocado booth to sample delicious avocado dishes, learn about the California avocado 'fresh to market advantage' and get a preview of our 2015 plans,” Jan DeLyser, CAC vice president of marketing, said in a press release.

Michelle Dudash, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author, will be in CAC’s Fresh Summit booth to share delicious, nutritious dishes featuring California avocados.

Dudash is an award-winning nutritionist and Cordon-Bleu-certified chef who is a frequent guest on television and radio shows. She is a best-selling author, whose three principles for everyday food choices, “clean, fresh, and fast,” were the foundation for her book, "Clean Eating for Busy Families." Dudash, a fan of California avocados, has served as a commission nutrition spokesperson for the past three years.

CAC also will be active on social media in advance of and during PMA Fresh Summit, leveraging event activities to connect with California avocado fans.

“CAC has participated in PMA’s Fresh Summit for more than 30 years and has experienced the benefits from strengthening connections and making new ones through networking and events,” said DeLyser. “The California Avocado Commission team is really looking forward to continuing that experience this year in our own backyard.”

AMHPAC convention looks toward future of Mexican protected agricultural production

Focused upon strengthening and sustaining its thriving industry, the Mexican Association of Protected Horticulture, commonly known by the Spanish acronym AMHPAC, held its seventh annual convention.

More than 330 participants attended the Aug. 28-29 meeting, which was held in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico, on the Gulf of California about 15 miles northeast of the famous resort town of Cabo San Lucas.

A Sept. 3 press release indicated that convention participants came from five countries, while domestic attendees came from 20 Mexican states.

"Over 100 representatives from 42 produce growing companies under protected schemes were reunited," with most of these being tomato growers, according to the release. Furthermore, "51 supplier companies took advantage of this setting to promote their inputs and services."

The opening session was a workshop regarding "Case studies in the daily operation of tomato export." This highlighted a detailed discussion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's tomato suspension agreement, including related workings of the Mexican mechanism of operation registration in SAGARPA, the national department of agriculture. Mexico's Ministry of Economy has an automatic notice of export, which was also detailed.

In the opening general meeting, Juan Ariel Reyes, AMHPAC's president, stated, "We are focused in making the Mexican protected horticulture industry to become a solid and sustainable guild with international recognition".

Enrique Julio Zorrilla Fullaondo, general manager of corporate banking for Mexico at Scotiabank, provided an analysis of Mexico's economic and financial environment.

A long list of speakers also gave important presentations on Aug. 29.