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WASHINGTON -- Prospects for a legal, stable workforce appear to be dimming for U.S. agriculture with news that the compromise immigration reform bill was taken off the Senate floor Thursday night, June 7, after Senate leaders tried unsuccessfully to limit debate on the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled the bill after senators twice voted against a motion to cut off debate. Armed with a list of amendments, some aimed at killing the bill, Sen. Reid had planned to push for a final vote on the measure this week (June 4-8).

But Senate Republican leaders said the bill should not be rushed. "Progress on such an important issue should not be measured by calendar days but by senators having the opportunity to debate and vote on their ideas to improve the bill," said Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

"It's certainly a major blow, but no, it's not dead," said Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations and research at the American Nursery & Landscape Association. "It will take a few days to assess."

"We are disappointed in the Senate's vote, which has delayed national immigration reform," said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy at United Fresh Produce Association. "Fortunately, both Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell indicated their desire to continue this debate, but the industry must keep the pressure on elected officials to pass immigration reform now."

Earlier in the week of June 4-8, the bill had been weakened as the Senate approved an amendment by one vote to phase out the guest worker program in five years.

A broad coalition of agriculture-based groups has long warned that Congress would be unlikely to revisit the controversial issue until after the presidential election if the fragile compromise bill stalled in the Senate. Labor-intensive agriculture industries are depending on federal reforms --language in the AgJOBS bill -- to prevent the worsening labor crisis and production moving offshore.

If nothing happens in Congress, the agriculture industry will face continued work-site enforcement, worsening labor shortages and a wide range of state and local laws filling the void. "It's an inherently federal issue," said Mr. Regelbrugge.

Mr. Guenther agreed. "The longer this is unresolved by our elected leaders, the longer our industry will face difficulties such as targeted enforcements and limited ability to secure a legal and stable workforce," he said.

In the meantime, agriculture trade groups are telling their members to call members of Congress and express disappointment in the latest Senate move.
?Usted no habla ingl?s?

Produce professionals should remember that many U.S. consumers do not speak English, especially those in the large and growing Latino communities. This group also faces many nutritionally related health issues that, as a culture, did not afflict its members when they lived in their homelands.

In an effort to help Latinos improve their eating habits and consequently their health, Oldways Preservation Trust and the Latino Nutrition Coalition, which is a division of Oldways, have collaborated in the development of the first comprehensive supermarket-shopping guide targeting the Latino community. Titled Camino M?gico: Nuestra Gu?a de Compras Para el Supermercado, which translates to The Magic Road: Our Supermarket Shopping Guide, the pocket- sized booklet is designed to help Latinos make wiser food choices while shopping. It was launched in early May at Fiesta Supermarkets throughout the Houston area.

Following close behind the initial launch, the booklets were to be offered at grocery stores in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Boston. Eventually, the plan is for nationwide distribution.

Liz Mintz, manager of LNC, explained how the booklet evolved from a discussion to an idea and finally to what the organization hopes will ultimately find its way into the pocket or purse of every Latin-American consumer.

"The development and organization of LNC was decided during a Latin American Diet Summit conference in Mexico in 2005," said Ms. Mintz. "By 2006, it was organized and operating, but we felt that as a coalition, we needed a tangible product. We also realized that there was nothing being mass distributed that helped Latino consumers at the retail level learn how to buy nutritional foods in the U.S. The booklet is the result of these factors."

Ms. Mintz explained that genetically, the Latino metabolism and physiological constitution is different than that of people of other heritages. Latinos' systems became adjusted over thousands of years to diets specific to their areas of the world. When they come to the United States, the food products available in grocery stores and at foodservice establishments are much different. Consequently, the obesity rate is very high among Latinos in the United States, and this contributes to the numerous serious health problems they suffer, including diabetes and heart conditions.

"Diabetes is on rise in every population," said Ms. Mintz. "Statistics indicate that one out of every three people born after the year 2000 will have diabetes. But one out of every two Latinos will develop it -- which is twice as high as the rest of the population. It is directly attributed to obesity resulting from lack of exercise and poor nutrition."

The produce industry had a strong hand in the founding of LNC and in its programs, including the creation of Camino M?gico. Founding members include the U.S. Potato Board, the Peanut Institute, ConAgra Foods and the Florida Tomato Committee.

Samantha Winters, marketing director for the Florida Tomato Committee, based in Maitland, FL, said that it took the organization a split-second to make the decision to become a founding member.

"The group's main goal is to work toward better health for Latinos by helping to educate them on ways to make better nutritional choices," said Ms. Winters. "Research shows that Latinos eat tomatoes about four times a week, and that over 90 percent buy field-grown tomatoes. This is an important audience for us, not only for industry reasons but also because of what we feel we can contribute to improved health for the Latino population."

Although Latinos live in every state of the nation, Ms. Winters said that data show the largest percentage live in California, Texas, Florida and New York - which account for two-thirds of the total 40.5 million Latinos now living in the United States. That means that 14.2 percent of the U.S. population is Latino, and that percentage continues to grow rapidly.

"The Southeast has the highest growth rate of Latinos currently," said Ms. Winters, "and that puts Florida tomatoes in a prime position to help get this important health message out."

LNC's intuitionalists and scientific advisors helped in deciding what Camino M?gico should include in its content.

"A Latin American food pyramid incorporates foods that are common to Latinos, and so are included in the pyramid," said Ms. Mintz. "Papayas, avocados, peppers, beans and other typical Latin items are displayed in the pyramid. The remainder of the information in the booklet stems from it, including a calorie-management page, menu-suggestion pages for all meals and snacks, and a guide on how to read and understand an English nutritional facts label. We thought this was very important because of the language challenges."

The booklet also has a shopping list guide that includes all the major food groups and suggests products for each. Finally, a spread page explains how American grocery stores are laid out -- which can be much different than how grocery stores in other countries are arranged. This chart indicates that fresh foods are usually on stores' perimeters, and dry goods are on aisles in the center.

Ms. Mintz said that the map helps people find items and learn how American grocers merchandise products, thus making shopping easier.

"We believe that the booklets should be placed in customers' hands right at the cash register," said Ms. Mintz. "They can easily be handed to customers with the grocery receipt. We don't mind that people of other heritages will also get the booklets. It is written in both English and Spanish, so it may even help to bridge a gap between heritages. We are focusing on grocers with a high Latino customer base, but ultimately we want to have widespread distribution."

(Supermarkets interested in participating in the program could contact Ms. Mintz at
SANTA CLARA, CA -- Think-21 believes it has technology that will be of interest to food processors and supermarkets, among others, in the United States.

Utilizing the technology of a partner in Europe, Long Island City, NY-based Think-21 believes that its advanced anaerobic digestion waste recycling systems will provide a low-cost alternative to waste disposal and at the same time produce renewable bio-gas from waste in the United States.

In Europe, Think-21's partner has two facilities in use, anticipates having two more on-line before year's end and has plans for three more facilities, said Sameer Rashid, director of business development for Think-21. Germany is the main market there, he said.

Mr. Rashid joined Think-21 Managing Director Alexander McFarlane at Cleantech 2007, held here May 23-24 at the Santa Clara Convention Center to help spread the word of the company's plans.

Think-21 seeks to create organic waste facilities on an industrial scale in the United States. "The [facilities] are economically friendly, more so than landfills," Mr. Rashid said, adding that Think-21 offers a lower cost of disposal while contributing positively to the environment.

Think-21 is eyeing 2009 as a tentative target date to have two such facilities come on-line in the United States. Likely placements of those facilities are one in the Northeast and one in California. Think-21 plans to step up its marketing efforts and hone in on project leads over the next four to six months, Mr. Rashid said.

"We've been well received," Mr. Rashid said, adding that it will be a race to see which of Think-21's targeted locations come on-line first. Mr. Rashid pointed out that there are avenues for grants and public funding available for environmental projects such as anaerobic digestion facilities. Think-21 is exploring prospects for project financing.

With food processors, Think-21 is interested in the unusable portion of food that won't find its way into bagged salads or other value-added products. Though a number of variables come into play regarding appropriate placement of a processing plant, Think-21 is targeting densely populated areas and areas with food-processing clusters.

Mr. Rashid said that Think-21 could play a significant future role in supermarkets' recycling efforts in the United States.

Though it is not tied to Think-21, Mr. Rashid cited WasteCap of Massachusetts and its Supermarket Recycling Organics Initiative, supported by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Food Association.

The Supermarket Recycling Organics Initiative shows supermarkets how to design, implement and sustain a recycling program that diverts discarded food, waxed and wet cardboard, renderings, soil and plants for composting. The program also addresses the recycling of stretch wrap, shrink-wrap, plastic bags, cardboard and other materials.
Although June is typically the heaviest production period for Mexican mangos, U.S. distributors said that the peak of the season will most likely come in July as the Nayarit and Sinaloa production areas are a couple of weeks later than usual.

An accurate forecast on mangos is always a moving target as there are so many districts and so many varieties, each importer has his own view of the crop which can be vastly different from his competitor, but no less accurate. Helping to sort this out is the new National Mango Board web site (, which does offer crop forecasting. However, even those numbers are bit difficult to decipher because they rely heavily on historical data to predict future production. When it comes to production, history is of course a factor but not nearly as powerful as Mother Nature.

What seems certain is that supplies of red mangos will be light in June (Tommy Atkins, Hadens, Kents, Keitts) with the yellow varieties (Ataulfo) carrying the load.

"Right now we are in a gap for reds [red mango varieties]," said Jesus (Chuy) Loza of Freska International in Ventura, CA. "It should continue to be tight the first three weeks of June."

Besides being late, Mr. Loza said the fruit is also small, with the Ataulfo crop peaking on sizes in the teens. The Tommy Atkins variety is larger, peaking on the 8-10 sizes.

Rodrigo Diaz of Diazteca Co. in Nogales, AZ, agreed with the volume outlook. "The peak is going to be in July," he said. "We are going to need lots of promotion in July."

He said that the July volume will consist of Tommy Atkins, Kents and Keitts. Kents and Keitt will carry the volume through much of August with Keitts surviving a bit later in the season. The Kents and Keitts typically produce larger fruit and Mr. Diaz said he expects that to be the case again this year with a good offering of fruit as large as 4s, 5s and 6s.

Rick Burkett, a salesman at Farmers Best in Nogales, said the lighter supplies have created a stronger market than last year. "Volume should start to increase by mid-June and be heavy through July as Sinaloa starts shipping."

Like others, he said that he expects the market to start to fall off when the heavy volume begins. In the summer months, he said Nogales does not have much else to sell so most of the mango sales tend to be straight loads, which gives the buyer some leverage in driving the price down a bit.

Bill Vogel, president of Tavilla Sales Co. in Los Angeles, said that his Sinaloa suppliers are 10 days behind normal.

"Southern Sinaloa would typically start on June 15, but we are not starting until June 25 this year. June is going to be short," Mr. Vogel said on the last day of May. "But the good news is that there will be good supplies for the Fourth of July," he added.

Chris Ciruli of Ciruli Bros. in Nogales is predominantly a yellow mango shipper with the firm's proprietary Champagne mango, which is in the Ataulfo family. "Reds are short but we have very good volume and we are moving into our heavy shipping period over the next four weeks," he said June 1.

Mr. Ciruli said the industry should be importing about 1.5 million cartons of mangos per week in early June, climbing to 1.8 million per week by the end of the month. In early June, crossing figures showed that about 70 percent of the volume was in the yellow varieties. He said volume over one million cartons per week is considered to be very promotable with the peak shipping weeks during the year topping two million cartons.

Mr. Ciruli predicted that there would be greater than two-million-carton weeks during July, with the red varieties carrying the load. He said shipments of yellow varieties will taper off after the Fourth of July. "We should go until at least July 14 and then the weather will determine how long we last. When we don't have any rain, we've gone well into August" with the Champagne mangos, he said.

Mr. Ciruli said that the smaller-structured Champagne mangos were peaking on sizes between 18 and 22 mangos per 10-pound carton.

In late May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service said that Mexico's early season mango production was delayed three to four weeks because of cold weather and heavy rains. While the later season areas are not that far behind, there is still a significant amount of delay, the USDA said.

What many of the importers seemed most concerned about is that U.S. retail promotions will coincide with the late heavy volumes. Some worried that the stronger late-May/early-June f.o.b. price will curtail promotions once the heavy volume begins. Of a half-dozen distributors interviewed, four specifically mentioned that they were giving retailers attractive pricing lids as much as a month out to stimulate promotion.

U.S. mango importers seemingly operate a volume business as f.o.b. prices are often around or below $3 per carton and can drop below $2 per carton during the heaviest shipping weeks.

"It's a tough business," agreed John-Campbell Barmmer of Chestnut Hill Farms in Miami, who said that the cost of a carton of mangos can fall below the raw cost of the carton at some points during the season.

Even in the midst of short supplies in late May, the f.o.b. price on an average carton of mangos was only around $4. Early season fruit fared much better as the market hovered near double digits in March.

(For more on the Mexican mango deal, see the June 4 issue of The Produce News.)
FRESNO, CA -- Trinity Fruit Sales Co., here, which markets an assortment of California-grown produce throughout the year, has added fresh figs to its summer and fall line-up.

According to Maurice (Mo) Cameron, a salesman with the company, "We are shipping four different varieties" of fresh figs: Black Mission, Calimyrna, Kadota and Brown Turkey.

The first, or breva, crop on the Black Missions was expected to start June 14. The second, or main, crop will start around July 10 and continue for several months, he said. Among the various varieties, the fresh fig harvest will continue well into the fall. The fall season will bring more volume as well as stronger demand, he said.

"We will be doing some export on figs, too" he added.

All Trinity Fruit's fresh figs will be coming from a single grower in Madera, CA, Mr. Cameron said. The fruit will be packed in the "Trinity" label at a small packing facility at the ranch. "There is cold storage at the ranch" as well, he said, "but we will probably take a lot of [the packed product] and consolidate it at our other sheds."

The figs will be available in an assortment of pack styles such as pint baskets, flats and clamshells, he said.

"Little by little, we are getting more involved in specialty items," Mr. Cameron said. "It just improves our position as a one-stop shop. We can offer figs to our customers that are going to be loading stone fruit" or other products during the fig season. Among those other products are apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines, Pluots, grapes and, later in the year, pomegranates and persimmons.

Mr. Cameron also commented on the California cherry season, which was at its peak at the time of the interview. It is "a very nice deal," he said. "Volume is good. There are a lot of promotions. ... Quality seems to be exceptional."

Consumers seem to have "a lot of confidence in the product," he said. "They buy the cherries. They like what they are getting. They are coming back for more." As a result, "there is demand at the supermarket level for more cherries," and pricing has been "very good" even with a large-volume crop this year. "Everything is moving through the system. ... This is probably one of the best cherry seasons I have seen as far as domestic demand."

Export demand has been good as well, Mr. Cameron added. Although pricing has moderated from the highs of earlier seasons, "it is still at very profitable levels, and there is good take."