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Stemilt awarded license to new University of Minnesota apple cultivar

The University of Minnesota has awarded Stemilt Growers the license to grow, pack, and market a new, early-to-ripen apple cultivar. The patent name for the cultivar is MN55, and the University of Minnesota plans to trademark a name for the fruit in conjunction with Stemilt in the near future.

MN55 was born 17 years ago at the University of Minnesota's apple-breeding program, the same place that the now national phenomenon Honeycrisp heralds from.MN55-2MN55, a new early-to-ripen apple. The new cultivar has exceptional flavors, color, and fracture and will be the first variety to harvest in Washington state and go to market come 2017. MN55 is a cross between Honeycrisp and an unreleased variety labeled as AA44 that is sometimes known as MonArk. With similar yet more defined flavor and quality attributes as Honeycrisp and AA44's characteristics to ripen early yet color well and maintain a crisp, juicy texture through the summer heat, Stemilt believes the new cultivar is a winner.

"We have a small block of trees that will produce small volumes of fruit come 2017, and a larger planting that will increase volumes for 2018 and beyond," Stemilt Marketing Director Roger Pepperl said in a press release. "We are thrilled at the prospect of having a high dessert-quality apple that will reinvent the month of August for the apple category. MN55 is very juicy and sweet and holds excellent pressures. These are unusual qualities for such an early apple to possess, and the exact qualities that consumers have come to love in an apple."

The journey to develop a new apple cultivar is not a quick process and requires great efforts. During the 17 years from original breeding to the final release and licensing of MN55 to Stemilt, the University of Minnesota conducted rigorous testing to ensure that the variety was of high enough quality to be commercially released. This process included five to six years of testing at multiple locations across the United States.

"We are pleased to release a new variety with the quality of MN55," David Bedford, research scientist for the University of Minnesota apple breeding program, added in the press release. "It represents our goal of developing new apple varieties that will give the consumer a memorable eating experience. We believe that it will join its close relatives, Honeycrisp and SweeTango(r), in creating a sense of excitement for the consumer when they shop for apples."

"An apple cultivar like MN55 is a rare find and right at home in Washington State. It's an early season apple that explodes with flavor and will be the perfect refreshing start to apple season for consumers. We can't wait to introduce it," said Pepperl.

MN55 is another chapter in Stemilt's story of bringing innovative varieties and products to market. The company successfully introduced its signature apple variety, Piñata to the marketplace in 2009, and also supplies the West Coast with the popular SweeTango apple. The company also has an award-winning branded kids fruit program, Lil Snappers and late season cherry programs, Kyle's Pick and Half Mile Closer to the Moon.

"Innovation is deeply rooted in our company heritage, and bringing a new apple cultivar like MN55 is a perfect representation of our commitment to continuing this trend for the future," Pepperl added. "We're working every day to deliver fruit that delights the consumer in order to build consumption and fruit consumers for the future."

In the coming months, Stemilt and the University of Minnesota will develop a trademark name for the apple.

"It's going to be fun to name an apple that will have so much appeal to the marketplace," said Pepperl. "It will be a signal for an early coming to the apple season, and hold a great position in back-to-school promotions in order to boost the apple category during a time of year that has previously gone untapped."

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.

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.”

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.