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Retailers, producers gear up for Year of the Goat

Retailers can be assured that produce departments will be well stocked with fresh Asian items during Chinese New Year. The Year of the Goat officially begins on Feb. 19.

Patsy Ross, marketing director for Christopher Ranch LLC, said the Gilroy, CA-based company offers a variety of products to add flavor to any meal. “We handle fresh ginger year-round,” she told The Produce News. “We also have some processed ginger items, chopped ginger and garlic ginger stir fry.”

At the current time, Christopher Ranch is transitioning from South American-grown ginger to its Hawaiian ginger crop.Asian3Lakeside Organic Gardens grows Asian vegetables in California's Imperial Valley. The company plants sweet alyssum to attract beneficial insects such as hover flies which eat aphid larvae. Seen here is a cabbage field in which this pest control practice is used. (Photo courtesy of Lakeside Organic Gardens) “The Hawaiian ginger season normally runs from December through June,” she said. “The Hawaiian ginger is grown in the Hilo, Hawaii, area. We have worked with ginger growers in Hawaii for over 25 years.”

Trends at the consumer level have been favorable for Asian produce. “Interest in Asian cuisine has moved from every town in America having a Chinese food restaurant to Japanese, Thai, Korean and Vietnamese foods both in restaurants and in grocery stores,” she commented. “Ginger is an important flavor profile in all types of Asian cuisine.”

Jim Provost, owner of I Love Produce in Kelton, PA, agreed. “Ginger is really growing in demand for its flavor and health benefits,” he stated. “Peru has become a major player in the world ginger market, and I Love Produce has helped significantly contribute to that growth. After China, Peru exported more ginger to the United States in 2014 than any other country. The quality of Peru ginger is the best in the world in terms of skin condition and flavor, and they have an excellent crop this year.”

I Love Produce also moves a variety of Asian pears, including Singo, Golden and Ya, from China. “Asian pears are also growing in popularity,” he said, adding that the company is packaging Asian pears under the “Eat Brighter!” campaign. “We are the only company using Eat Brighter! to help sell Chinese pears,” he went on to say. “Kids love the juicy sweet flavor of Asian pears, so the Eat Brighter! campaign is a great way to promote this product to both children and their parents.”

The company also markets oriental sweet potatoes.

Lindsey Roberts, who handles marketing communications for Lakeside Organic Gardens, said the company grows organic Asian produce on 800 acres in California's Imperial Valley. “Volume is on par, and quality looks great,” she told The Produce News. “As kimchi and other fermented foods grow in popularity, so does the demand for Napa cabbage. We supply many organic fermented food producers with bok choy, green cabbage, carrots and Napa cabbage. Carrots complement Asian cooking very nicely as well.”

The Santa Cruz, CA-based company helps consumers incorporate Asian produce into menu planning and preparation. “On our social media platforms, we encourage people to learn about all the vegetables we grow and give easy ideas to incorporate vegetables into everyday menus,” Roberts noted. “The Asian items are popular in stir frys and soups. In January, we will share our rendition of a delicious California cole slaw recipe.”

Paul Boris, co-owner and vice president of Agritrade Farms LLC in Deerfield Beach, FL, said the company specializes in okra branded under the “Gumbo-Licious” label. Okra accounts for approximately roughly 50 percent of Agritrade’s total sales, and 40 percent of okra is marketed in Europe. “Okra is extremely healthy and is experiencing tremendous growth among Americans and Europeans as they become more concerned about eating healthy,” Boris commented.

Agritrade imports Asian vegetables from the Dominican Republic and Honduras. The line includes items such as banana flower, Chinese bitter melon, Chinese eggplant, curry leaves, green long beans, Thai eggplant and tindora.

“There are approximately 18 million Asians and Asian Americans living in the U.S. representing about 5 percent of the population,” Boris stated. “Major cities with Asian demographics include New York, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu. There are approximately 5 million Asians and Asian Canadians living in Canada representing approximately 15 percent of the population. Major cities with significant Asian populations include Toronto and Vancouver.”

Boris said Asian vegetables are becoming more popular with American consumers. “Many Americans are first introduced to the flavors of Asian vegetables in restaurants,” he observed. “Look at the American growth of guacamole, salsa and others via the American growing Hispanic demographics. Asian vegetables are experiencing similar growth on a smaller scale with new American customers enjoying the great taste of Asian cooking.”

Vick Family Farms expands storage, adds bagging

WILSON, NC — Lyndon B. Johnson, the legendary master of the U.S. Senate, used to say that the time to make friends is before you need them. And the time to expand farming operations is before you need more space. That’s the approach Vick Family Farms here took last year, when spring rains foreshortened the 2013 sweet potato harvest. The family corporation invested in a new storage facility for year-round sweet potatoes and a bagging machine to spur consumer demand.

The move paid off.VICK11214-EXPORTIn the packinghouse at Vick Family Farms, a growing share of the 2014 sweet potato harvest is being exported overseas. These cartons, with Süßkartoffeln printed on them — German for 'sweet potatoes' — are being shipped to Amsterdam for German markets. Vick added 22,000 square feet of refrigerated storage space and was able to accommodate the back-to-normal abundance of the 2014 sweet potato harvest. The new storage facility gives Vick the ability to store 600,000 bushels on site, according to Hunter A. S. Rascoe, packinghouse and food-safety manager. Rascoe said the added capacity enables Vick to offer cured sweet potatoes year-round.

“Vick Family Farms cures its sweet potatoes for seven to 10 days at temperatures of 80 to 85 degrees with 80-90 percent humidity,” he said. “Curing causes sugar-creating enzymes to develop that make sweet potatoes taste sweet. After curing, we store the potatoes at 55-60 degrees for the rest of the year until the new crop is harvested.”

The bagging machine, added in the last year, puts sweet potatoes into three-pound bags. Experience shows, Rascoe said, some supermarket consumers prefer to buy their sweet potatoes in bags rather than pick them from a bin, especially for the Thanksgiving holidays. “Right now our bagging machine runs at capacity for the holidays,” he observed, “but we hope it will steadily build into more consistent business throughout the year.”  

Food safety is a key concern, and Rascoe said each sweet potato bin is labeled so that its contents can be traced back to the field where they grew and the workers who were involved. The cartons contain labels that show when they were processed and by which workers, along with the bin number. “We track crop rotation, pesticide and fertilizer applications and harvesting crews,” Rascoe said. “Once a year we have a mock recall, where we check on traceability from the retailer back to the field.”

In the packinghouse, where skilled fork-lift drivers expertly jockey their loads from one point to another, some experienced workers have nine years’ tenure on the job. In addition to the bagging machine, other evidence of consumer preference can be found. For example, sweet potatoes are sized, and those too big or too small — or which have too weird a shape to appeal to retail consumers — are relegated to canneries, french fry factories, puree manufacturers or pet food pellets.

Rascoe noted that a sizable percentage of the cartons shipped have Süßkartoffeln printed on them — German for “sweet potatoes” — because they are destined for the growing export market. In any language, Vick Family Farms anticipates consumer demand, making friends before they are needed.

Calif. temperatures stay above danger zone but freeze watch continues

California citrus growers dodged a bullet during the first night of freezing temperatures during the early-morning hours Dec. 31 in the San Joaquin Valley, but the freeze watch continues and the next two days will be critical.

"Our stations clearly indicate that very few locations dipped below 32 degrees for any period of time," California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen said in a statement. "Throughout the night and early morning a few locations experienced short durations of cold temperatures requiring some form of frost protection."

Typically temperatures need to fall below 32 degrees for a period of at least four hours for damage to occur. Of course, the lower the temperature and the longer the duration the more damage occurs. Overnight temperatures did drop below freezing for short periods of time in several locations, but a cloud cover helped moderate the temperatures and kept the mercury in the high 20s in even the coldest citrus-growing areas.

A year ago, eight straight days of sub-freezing weather in early December caused significant damage and cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

In the San Joaquin Valley, more than 200,000 acres of citrus are farmed with the primary varieties being Navel and Mandarin oranges. Lemons and other varieties constitute approximately 15 percent of the valley's citrus crop. Mandarin and lemon varieties are the most vulnerable because of thinner skin.

Approximately 75 percent of the fall-winter citrus crop still remains on the trees. More than 16,000 wind machines are employed to protect the $1.6 billion citrus crop.

Carolinas receive nearly $2 million in specialty crop grants

North and South Carolina farmers trying to combat pests and diseases attacking their blueberries, sweet potatoes and other specialty crops are getting help from the federal government. The U.S. Agriculture Department has provided nearly $2 million for a total of 35 programs in the Tar Heel and Palmetto states to research or promote home-grown fruits, vegetables and nursery plants.

The money will go to universities, local agencies and nonprofit organizations.SPECIALTY-GRANTS11213-SWEET-POTATOESGrowers of sweet potatoes, North Carolina’s number one produce crop, would benefit from a specialty crop grant project to eradicate the sweet potato weevil in North Carolina. It’s part of a $118 million national effort funded by the farm bill approved earlier this year. Its goal is to boost specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops. North Carolina received $1.175 million for 15 projects; South Carolina received about $602,000 for 20 projects.

North Carolina projects include assistance to specialty crop growers through a partnership with the Carolinas Farm Stewardship Association to develop a food-safety support program and to establish community-based, sustainable food-safety systems. And in a second project with the Farm Stewardship group, offer specialty crop producers seeking to take advantage of the high-value market for organic produce by helping them transition to certified-organic production.

Other North Carolina projects include a partnership with North Carolina State University to identify, collect, virus-test and propagate old and new cultivars in order to provide growers with a reliable source of productive muscadine grape plants and to establish baselines for an integrated pest management program to eradicate the sweet potato weevil in North Carolina.

South Carolina projects include partnering with the South Carolina Fruit, Vegetable and Specialty Crop Association to increase the visibility of the state’s specialty crops by rebranding the association and refocusing its media presence. Also, in cooperation with Lowcountry Local First, to increase the number of consumers eating specialty crops and increase the number of specialty crop growers by promoting the Growing New Farmers program.

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the South Carolina Watermelon Association, will seek to increase the consumption of watermelon by providing education regarding its health benefits while promoting the South Carolina watermelon industry to retailers, wholesalers and the public through an extensive industry spokesperson program. Also, in cooperation with Clemson University, to develop a larger peach by using a wide and diverse set of germ plasm to accumulate many traits together into a single cultivar and distribute these findings to producers.

Also, in cooperation with the Coastal Conservation League, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture will try to create a stronger rural economy by increasing the volume of specialty crops distributed through local food hubs and managing the greater number of specialty crop farmers participating in the food hubs.

Ocean Mist selling unique Frost Kissed artichokes

As a result of the recent widespread frosts in California, highly flavorful artichokes known as Frost Kissed artichokes are now in stores for a short time.

“The impact of frost on artichokes is similar to how human skin reacts to sunburn,” Joe Feldman, Ocean Mist Farms vice president of sales and marketing, said in a press release. “Frost turns the outside layer of the artichoke dark brown, and then it flakes and peels.”Frost-Kissed  Ocean-Mist-Farms1

Once cooked, the brown outer layer is gone, resulting in the soft green artichoke people are familiar with.

“Frosting is strictly a cosmetic condition,” Feldman said in the release. “While the brownish color may not look pretty, Frost Kissed artichokes actually taste wonderful. The cold weather concentrates the natural artichoke flavors into a more intense, nutty flavor.”

Because Frost Kissed artichokes look different than green artichokes, Ocean Mist Farms is implementing an education program to teach shoppers about how good they taste.

The company has information on its website with pictures and recipes and is sending that information to all members of its Artichoke club.

Ocean Mist is also sending display cards to the retail customers who are stocking Frost Kissed artichokes in their stores the new few weeks.

“A Frost Kissed artichoke is a very unique item that we don’t have every season,” Feldman said. “Because they are so seasonal, we have to teach shoppers to look for them and be sure to buy them during the short time they are in the stores.”

Artichokes are Frost Kissed when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. Following a freeze, artichoke plants take two to three weeks to start producing frost-free artichokes again.