your-news image

Taiwan lifts apple quarantine, agrees to resume imports

A ban imposed Dec. 21, 2004, on apple exports to Taiwan was lifted April 26, with exports from the United States approved to resume April 27.

According to a letter from Francis K. H. Liang of the Washington, DC-based Economic Division of the Taipei Economic & Cultural Representative Office in the United States, the Taiwan Bureau of Animal & Plant Health Inspection & Quarantine "agreed [April 26] to resume U.S. apple imports into Taiwan April 27, 2005, and the phytosanitary certificate of apples should be issued on or after that date."

The December ban was issued following the third instance of codling moth larvae discovered in U.S. apple shipments. Two earlier instances of larvae were found during 2004 in product being shipped from Washington state and California, and the third was in apples from Oregon.

Prior to the ban, between 1.5 million and 1.6 million boxes of apples from the 2004 Washington harvest had been shipped to Taiwan. Washington Apple Commission President Dave Carlson said earlier this year that in 2000, with a crop that closely matched that of 2004, some 4.9 million boxes found a home in the Pacific Rim country, and last year just slightly more than 2 million boxes were shipped there.

Most of the Washington apples sent to Taiwan are Fujis and Galas, Mr. Carlson said.

The news was met with obvious delight at both the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association and the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association. Miles Kohl of the Yakima group said that the quarantine lift was certainly being celebrated within the industry on April 27.

This will potentially provide a lift in Fuji movement, Mr. Kohl said, noting that the 2004 crop, the largest in Washington history at 102.5 million boxes, had seen 69.3 percent of its volume shipped to date.

Still, the crop's movement is not way off historical numbers on smaller volume. In 2000, the previous record-setter for the state at 98.3 million boxes, to-date movement was 72.3 percent, and last year at this time, 75.3 percent of the 2003 crop had been shipped.

Mr. Kohl continued, More so than anything, this sets the groundwork for the 2005 crop. He noted that while shipments to Taiwan would resume, the actual peak shipping period to the Asian nation normally comes earlier in the year.

Were out of peak time for shipments there, he said, adding that on average the month of May sees 20,000 cases of apples exported to Taiwan. Whether there will be pent-up demand there, we dont know, he said.

From the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, Charles Pomianek told The Produce News that the announcement from Taiwan was Christmas in April for Washington apple growers and shippers. He added, It is great, great news. We need all of our markets for this big crop.

And referencing the pent-up demand, Mr. Pomianek thought that such demand does exist. This is also great for the Taiwanese people, because they really like our product. Now we just have to work hard to follow protocol.

Amended protocol has been sent to Francis F. Ruzicka III, the Washington, DC-based director of trade and commercial programs for the American Institute in Taiwan.

Further, the on-site verification of orchard control programs will be conducted during the coming yearly quarantine verification, as it was not conducted during the March on-site verification visit, Mr. Liang wrote.

Peterson to team up with Kingston & Associates

Kingston Cos. in Idaho Falls, ID, announced that David J. Peterson has been retained as adviser to the president for the company's planned expansion into new markets and products.

Initially, Mr. Peterson will advise on the companys entry into the sales and marketing of organically farmed fish. He will also help direct the companys servicing of the fresh produce retail and foodservice markets.

Mr. Peterson has extensive experience in sales and marketing as well as farming and procurement operations supporting the fresh produce business. Most recently, he was the senior vice president of business development for Sun World International in Bakersfield, CA, where he was charged with expanding that companys customer base.

Mr. Peterson also has extensive experience in agricultural operations and procurement through his tenure as vice president of agricultural operations for Cadiz Inc., as chief operating officer of Fisher Procurement Inc. and as manager for all produce purchasing activities for Sysco Corp.

Commenting on the announcement, Mike Kingston, president of Kingston Cos., said in a release, "We are fortunate, indeed, to have been able to engage an individual with the pedigree that Dave brings to this assignment to support me and our team of specialists in our expansion efforts to take Kingston & Associates Marketing to its next level: to feed the world safe, wholesome and delicious food. I have known and followed Dave's career for the past 20 years. Beyond superior customer service, which is indispensable, I have no doubt that together our customers can count on us for a relentless commitment to quality and safety  our brand promise."

Mr. Kingston continued, "Kingston will benefit from Dave's business acumen, personal integrity and the depth and breadth of this experience and contacts in the fresh produce industry. From seed to soil to site, Kingston, through this association, will continue to assure the best quality product will be effortlessly delivered to the door of each of our customers.

Kingston Cos. is a private, family-owned group of companies controlled by David O. Kingston. Through Kingston & Associates Marketing LLC, Kingston is one of the larger distributors and marketers of produce products including fresh potatoes, onions, lettuce, broccoli and sweet pineapples.

Kingston & Associates Marketing serves the wholesale foodservice industry and major restaurant chains. High-quality products and superior customer service, a hallmark of the Kingston family of companies, is maintained through a network of integrated companies, which own and operate farmland, own, operate and schedule transportation needs and provide other management services for its customers. Kingston Cos. has offices in Idaho Falls, ID; Monterey, CA; McLean, VA; San Jose, Costa Rica; Lima, Peru; and Gold River, BC.

Pungency certification survives Ga. court

If a Vidalia onion is certified sweet, does that detract from the "Vidalia" brand of onion, which already implies sweet onions? A Georgia Superior Court judge on April 19 answered that question: No.

National Onion Labs Inc. in Collins, GA, was the immediate winner in the legal case. But David Burrell, president of the company, insists that American consumers are the real winners.

Mr. Burrell said that his business has faced legal confrontations since he opened a company named Vidalia Labs in 1998. After a lawsuit was filed against that company, he started Vidalia Labs International in 1999. In 2004, we changed the name to National Onion Labs. Perhaps now the company can focus more on determining the sweetness of onions.

National Onion Labs uses a variety of proprietary procedures to help growers determine the sweetness of their onions while the bulbs are still in the field. Samples are taken around a field, with the precise global positioning system location of each sample recorded. The firm then gives growers a map of their field, showing field locations with the sweetest onions. Those areas that are not so sweet can receive more propriety services from National Onion Labs to boost sweetness before harvest. After these procedures, onion growers and marketers are allowed to promote onions as Certified Sweet or Certified Very Sweet. Certified Sweet and Certified Extra Sweet are trademarks of National Onion Labs.

The technology has been applied by several leading growers in the Vidalia deal for the last couple of years. As the legal issues were in doubt, most did not overtly promote the certification, but that path is now very clear, according to Mr. Burrell.

National Onion Labs also has clients in Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Mexico, Texas, Washington, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon and California.

Dr. David Kopsell, who holds a doctorate from the University of Georgia in horticulture, specializing in onion pungency, who works for National Onion Labs, described the setting for the legal affronts to his company: There are definitely, in any market, the progressive growers at the leading edge doing all they can to give quality assurance to the consumer. And there are those growers that like the status quo and the way things are and not change. A group of those growers had gotten together. This was something new and they had to fight it.

Dr. Kopsell said that those opposing certified-pungency testing argued that Vidalia is a registered trademark. This trademark in itself, they claimed, certified onions as Vidalia onions, which specified growers, location and onion variety. They claimed that further certification degrades the Vidalia brand. The final result found otherwise, he said.

Mr. Burrell listed an impressive cast that testified in court April 19 in favor of certifying onion sweetness. He said that Bill Randle, a horticulture professor at the University of Georgia, verified that pungency gradients have been correlated to what people taste. People can distinguish between mild, very mild and slightly pungent, Mr. Burrell said, paraphrasing Dr. Randle. The consumer can taste the difference and the grower can use that information to improve his onion crop's taste, Mr. Burrell added.

Others testifying for the taste certification were Bob Evans of Keystone Fruit Marketing, who, Mr. Burrell paraphrased, testified this is simply the best science they know to consistently offer product that has the characteristics of what the consumer is buying. They have conducted this on every sweet onion they have worked with since 1999 and, with talk of certifying sweet or extra sweet, it is not causing confusion in the marketplace.

Chester Fulp of A. Duda & Sons Inc. in McAllen, TX, according to Mr. Burrell, stated that Duda has two years in this program, using it to improve product. Mr. Burrell said that Mr. Fulp was asked if the sweetness branding causes confusion in the market place. He said, 'No, it takes it out of the marketplace. As a major marketer of onions, this helps consumers distinguish between what they think is sweet and what is a sweet onion. Mr. Burrell added that this testimony was forthcoming despite the fact that Duda has had the experience of having had a field fail sweetness testing. The firm decided not to sell such onions as sweet.

Mr. Burrell said that R.T. Stanley of Stanley Farms in Vidalia also testified in support of pungency certification, informing the court that he has sometimes had complaints over the last 20 years that his Vidalia onions were not sweet.

He added that since he has participated in National Onion Labs certification over the last two years, he has had no such complaints. Mr. Burrell said that Mr. Stanley is in his third year of participation with National Onion Labs, growing 1,000 acres this year.

Mr. Burrell said that Dr. Kopsell also testified about a grocery-shopping trip made by Mr. Burrell and Dr. Kopsell. The men bought $367 in groceries, purchasing products with different indicated flavors or intensities. Dr. Kopsell demonstrated to the court that consumers are accustomed to different intensity levels in buying food. He noted, for example, that coffee comes with different roasting levels and cheese with four different taste intensity levels. Different tastes of salsa are available, and toilet paper can be soft or extra soft.

Mr. Burrell estimated that the United States has annual retail sweet onion sales of between $750 million and $1 billion. In U.S. retail supermarkets, we have documented 130 unique sweet onion labels. In our survey  21 percent were Vidalia sweet onions. In its survey, National Onion Labs bought onions in 27 states. After testing the taste of its sample, more than half of the samples did not have the flavor of a sweet onion.

Mr. Burrell said that his company has tested a half-million onion bulbs over the last seven years. During that time, I have never shown a flavor map to a grower in North [America] or South America who didnt look at the map and say something like: I always knew there was a clay spot  where the map would mark a different onion flavor. Given the high-tech maps, every grower has been able to take flavor variability and tie it to a certain characteristic of part of a field.

Truck rates climb with sporadic shortages

In mid-April, with 200 loads of onions per day leaving the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, truck rates were skyrocketing and shortages were apparent.

"Call me back later," Melinda Goodman of Four Seasons Trading Co. in Donna, TX, said Friday afternoon, April 15. I'm looking for trucks and I just cant find any.

Two hours later, she said, Maybe you can e-mail me some questions and I can think about them over the weekend as I just have no time to talk right now. Trucks are really tight. Rates that were $3,200 are being quoted at $4,200 to $4,800. And there is no end in sight.

Mike Martin of Rio Queen Inc. in Mission, TX, agreed that trucks were very tight because of the large supplies of onions, mangos, limes and other items crossing from Mexico in Texas combined with the Texas production. He took somewhat of a circumspect look at the rising rates. It is what it is, he quipped. Fuel rates are climbing. I feel for the truckers.

Barry London of London Fruit Inc. in Pharr, TX, wasnt quite so charitable. He believes rates have climbed a bit too fast and said it would be better for all concerned if they didnt fluctuate so much. I know costs are going up and it is difficult [for the truckers], but sometimes I think it might be better to take a rate from lets say $2,400 to $3,200 rather than jumping all the way to $4,000. They are trying to get too much.

He said that those sky-high rates in Texas that truckers were quoting would probably fall as shipments of Mexican onions decline over the next few weeks. This is a peak shipping period for Texas, and others said that rates are as high as they have ever been.

John Jerue of John J. Jerue Truck Brokers Inc. in Bartow, FL, said that rates have not climbed quite as high as he predicted they would 30 days ago. We have passed our spring peak for vegetables, and we are doing all right. Thirty days ago, I thought we would really have problems now, but we dont.

Mr. Jerue said that weather and other factors combined to reduce production and keep rates down a bit, although they have risen in recent weeks. The longtime truck broker did not blame fuel prices. The produce industry is different, he said. The rate is the rate, and no one tacks on fuel surcharges. It might cost you $3,500 to go to Detroit when it only cost you $2,500 a couple of months ago. But that $1,000 difference isnt because of rising fuel costs but because of supply and demand.

Steve Lowe, manager of the Los Angeles office of the Allen Lund Co. Inc., had a little different take. He said that many California produce companies have worked with his firm on year-round contract rates for transportation, and there is a fuel surcharge. If it is quoted on the spot-market price, its not called a fuel surcharge, but you know its in there. For contract rates, there is definitely a surcharge. It is all over the board, but Id say right now, 13 percent is average.

Mr. Lowe said that the contracts are written differently, but typically the base price factors in a $1.25 to $1.50 per gallon cost for diesel fuel, so the surcharge is factored against that base price.  That base price for fuel is probably outdated, he quipped as California is looking at diesel fuel prices above the $2.50 range.

As California heads into its heavy shipping period, Mr. Lowe in mid-April termed the supply of trucks tight but adequate. He said that coast-to-coast rates for produce were averaging $5,000 to $5,500. While he was very reluctant to predict how high they might go, Mr. Lowe said that he has seen $7,500 rates in the past couple of years, and that rate would not surprise him this summer.

Mr. Jerue was also reluctant to predict how high they might go. Two years ago, I saw rates well above $7,500 and I thought theyd get there again last year, but they didnt. I hardly saw anything over $6,000. Who knows how high they will get this year  $7,000, $8,000, $9,000  I just dont know.

Obviously, rising fuel costs are a big factor as the cost of diesel has gone up 30-50 percent over the last 18 months, depending upon the region. A mid-April chart showed that diesel fuel prices ranged from about $2.25 to $2.60 across the country, with California having the highest-price gas. However, the price in California was up only 33 percent over a year ago compared to a more than 50-percent hike on the East Coast.

Ken Gilliland, who handles transportation issues for Western Growers in Irvine, CA, said that the freight situation was a hot topic of conversation at the associations recent board meeting.  There is a shortage, and the number one reason is lack of qualified drivers, he said. Some of the trucking companies are experiencing more than a 100 percent turnover.

And even if there were enough drivers, he said that the slowdown in the economy a few years ago resulted in a lack of investment in equipment, which means there is also a shortage of good refrigerated trucks. Tack on the rising fuel prices and there is definitely a problem. At the board meeting, shippers were calling it a crisis.

Mr. Gilliland said that the railroad industry offers no respite for the produce industry except in a few isolated cases. Some carrots, potatoes and citrus do move by rail, but those rates are also going up and equipment is short. On May 1, the railroads are adding a 10 percent fuel surcharge. On a $7,000 or $8,000 rate, thats quite a hit.

While the lack of competition for refrigerated railcars means that there are enough cars to go around, there are not enough engines to pull those cars. We are competing for service with other industries, he said. The railroads only have so many engines and can only pull so many cars. Recently, [a railroad company] was an engine shy in Bakersfield, so some cars [filled with produce] would have had to sit in the yard a few days.

Mr. Gilliland said that foreign products from China and other Asian countries shipped by container to the West Coast and then transported by train to the East Coast are competing for those same engines.

Like others questioned, Mr. Gilliland does not see a simple solution to the problem. He said that some shippers are talking about owning equipment themselves, while others are looking for an industrywide solution. In either case, the answer is an expensive one, and only comes to mind during crisis situations. When trucks are no longer tight, drastic solutions are not considered.

However, Mr. Lowe of the Allen Lund Co. said that the crisis situations are tending to last longer and longer each year. When I came into this business 15 or 16 years ago, we had a shortage of equipment three or four months of the year and plentiful supplies the other eight months. Now the reverse is true.

Newly designed food pyramid met with mixed reviews

WASHINGTON - When the Dietary Guidelines boosted the daily recommended allowance of fruits and vegetables to five-to-13 servings per day from five-to-nine servings, the produce industry eagerly awaited the design of the new graphic that would guide consumers in making smart dietary choices.

On April 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its long-awaited redesigned food pyramid to mixed reviews from members of the produce industry.

"MyPyramid is about the ability of Americans to personalize their approach when choosing a healthier lifestyle that balances nutrition and exercise," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said at the April 19 unveiling of the Steps to a Healthier You graphic.

The new graphic turns the 1992 pyramid on its side as designers opted to keep the symbol that is so widely recognized by consumers. All the food-group bands run from the top of the pyramid to the base, and the different sizes reflect the proportion of foods consumers should eat from each food group.

The bands are much wider at the base to remind people to eat mostly foods without solid fats and sugars. Orange is for grains, green is for vegetables, red is for fruit, blue is for milk products, purple is for meat and beans, and yellow is for oils.

Every single American can find a MyPyramid that is right for them at mypyramid.gov with personalized recommendations on the kinds and the amounts of food to eat each day, said Secretary Johanns. The slogan 'Steps to a Healthier You' tells us that each one of us can benefit by starting to make even very small steps toward healthier lifestyles.

Lastly, the pyramids symbol of a person climbing the steps shows the importance of physical activity, which received only praise as a key change from the 12-year-old symbol.

For those computer-savvy consumers, the new pyramid includes an extensive educational tool at mypyramid.com that includes personalized diet plans and physical activity recommendations. The interactive activities make it easy for individuals to key in their age, gender and physical activity level so that they can get a more personalized recommendation on their daily calorie level based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Mypyramid.gov also includes a Spanish language version and a soon-to-be-completed, child-friendly version for children and teachers.

Keeping with the recognized graphic was a smart move, said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations at the Produce Marketing Association. She praised the fact that the fruit and vegetable bands combined represented about one-third of the pyramid and that the new design dishes out advice in serving sizes.

We commend USDA for using language that clearly conveys the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables. This speaks to consumers in their own language and helps them understand exactly how much produce they should be eating each day, she said.

But Produce for Better Health Foundation President Elizabeth Pivonka described the new graphic as a disappointment and a lost opportunity to convey the sweeping new message in the Dietary Guidelines.

MyPyramid misses the mark for most Americans, replacing an American icon with an oversimplified, uncommunicative visual that leaves out real guidance for a nation hungry for direction, Ms. Pivonka said in a statement. Most importantly, it fails to stress the importance of increasing fruit and vegetable intake for better health and to control weight. In the process, it fails Americans public health.

People who are more in need of dietary advice and do not have access to the interactive computer information will be left out in the cold, she said. The latest Dietary Guidelines were the strongest theyve ever been and the least political, she said, but the new pyramid does a poor job conveying the message and the all-foods-fit approach is a disservice to consumers.

The foundation is in the middle of retooling its 5 A Day message in light of the new dietary recommendations, but the group still wants to capture the equity of the much-recognized 5 A Day branding, she said. It will take some months to develop it as PBH works with its government partners.

The foundation has been testing its own graphic of dinner-plate sections with different foods that represent a healthy diet. Ms. Pivonka said that focus groups thought the graphic of make fruits and vegetables half your plate every meal was the most widely appealing and understandable. The group shared it with USDA, but the agency did not like it, she said.

Now that USDA has announced the new pyramid, questions remain on the degree to which the government plans to sell the new dietary advice. We applaud the governments plans to direct more resources toward reaching consumers with these important messages, said Robert Guenther, United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Associations vice president of public policy.

However, the government has made similar nutrition outreach efforts in the past with very poor results. There is a tremendous, devastating gap between the advice presented by government experts and the way people actually live, and it will take more than a new shape and communication strategy to achieve real lifestyle change and improve public health, he said.

In the coming years, our government must show a real commitment to addressing the environmental, economic and policy factors that encourage eating patterns different from these guidelines. Food choices are influenced by a number of factors, including access, cost, availability, taste and convenience, that the government must recognize if we are serious about integrating this new guidance into peoples lives, said Mr. Guenther.