your-news image

Produce Safety & Security announces marketing agreement

Produce Safety & Security International Inc., based in Toronto, announced that it has reached a marketing agreement with O.H. Trading Corp. for fruits, vegetables and olive oil from South America, South Africa, Europe and New Zealand.

PDSS will have full marketing rights to both retail chains and food service vendors, with estimated volumes for fruits and vegetables to be 500,000 to 600,000 units consisting of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, plums and nectarines. All fruits and vegetables will arrive at West Coast ports via vessel and will be treated with PDSS's food safety and risk reduction process. The marketing agreement with O.H. Trading Corp. will allow PDSS to showcase its food-safety and risk-reduction processes for fruits and vegetables and provide PDSS-certified fruit and vegetables into the market place.

Produce Safety & Security endeavors to eliminate food safety and sanitation issues and provide methods to improve procedures to minimize risk and liability. Its comprehensive program is a proactive approach to food safety, and it intends to offer a variety of products and services that provide safer food and produce products, provide better quality, reduce shrinkage and enhance shelf life.

California cherry crop looks to be lighter this year

The 2005 California cherry crop is expected to be "lighter by 10 to 20 percent" compared to 2004, said Jim Culbertson, executive director of the California Cherry Advisory Board in Lodi, CA.

In speaking with The Produce News on April 18, Mr. Culbertson said that the state produced the equivalent of 6 million 18-pound boxes of cherries in 2004. I'm baffled by the crop size, Mr. Culbertson said. Im surprised the crop is as light. The state is on a growth curve with cherry acreage, and the states maximum potential is 8 million boxes of cherries, he said.

The Stockton area is large, Mr. Culbertson said. Bloom conditions here were favorable. Other tree fruit crops are light as well, Mr. Culbertson said.

In chronological order, Californias cherry harvest typically begins with Brooks, followed by Tulare, Bing and Rainier varieties.

The Bing cherry crop is shaping up to be lighter, and the Brooks variety appears heavier than last year, Mr. Culbertson said. The heavy volume in Brooks follows on the heels of 2004, when Brooks had one of the heaviest volume years last year of any year, Mr. Culbertson said.

The Brooks variety  the earliest to harvest  has already started. Kings and Kern counties are the heaviest in Brooks volume.

Mr. Culbertson described the Rainier crop as looking fine. The early orchards are light, and later-producing orchards look heavier than last year, Mr. Culbertson said. Reduced numbers on a tree mean a larger size of fruit.

The Bing harvest should begin around May 10-15. For California cherries overall, Mr. Culbertson said, We expect fairly good volume prior to Memorial Day  the retailer can feature cherries for Memorial Day.

California cherries are in high demand any time, Mr. Culbertson said. Shippers have done a better job, he said, gaining more market share and earning a higher profit. The first week of May through about the end of June is the peak time for retailers, he said.

Fruit fly larvae finds in Texas citrus trigger action

Fruit fly larvae were found in two different shipments of Texas citrus at a California/Arizona border agricultural inspection station in late April, triggering immediate suspension of shipments from the shippers in question and a new protocol for other shippers.

As USDA, Texas, California and Arizona agricultural officials discussed the issue, Texas shippers were grateful that the problems came at the end of the season. With most Texas shippers in the process of shutting down their plants for the year, the impact is expected to be fairly minimal for this season. However, the fly larvae finds, which are suspected to be of the Mexican fruit fly, do require an intense audit of the current program.

A California Department of Food & Agriculture spokesperson confirmed that live fruit fly larvae had been found in two citrus shipments, one originated by Rio Queen Citrus Inc. in Mission, TX, and another that came from Healds Valley Farms Ltd. in Edinburg, TX. Consequently California and Arizona suspended shipments from those two shippers as well as their affiliate companies.

As of Wednesday, April 26, shipments from five citrus companies could not come into California or Arizona: Rio Queen; Interstate Fruit & Vegetable Co. Inc. in Donna, TX; Healds Valley; Mission Shippers in Edinburg, TX; and Donna Fruit Co. in Edinburg, TX. In addition, a few pallets of limes from Godinez International LLC in Hidalgo, TX, were also on one of the loads of citrus, so limes from that firm were also barred from entering California and Arizona.

However, limes are not host to the Mexican fruit fly, so observers were expecting that suspension to be dropped quickly.

For other shippers of oranges and grapefruit from Texas, their fruit had to be fumigated in the presence of a USDA or Texas agricultural official and certified as such before it could be sent to either of the two western states.

As a practical matter, John McClung of the Texas Produce Association said that few shipments would go through this fumigation protocol in the remaining days of the deal. While the fly larvae finds were disconcerting, Mr. McClung said that the problem was still being analyzed and it may turn out not to be a problem at all.

Mr. McClung said it is possible that the live larvae found were in fact "wrigglers," which he explained were larvae that had been rendered ineffective by fumigation but were still technically alive and moving, or twitching, as they were heading toward death. If this is the case, the fumigation process did its job and the regular protocol, as opposed to this emergency protocol, could be used when shipments resume next season.

On the other hand, the larvae finds may reveal some flaws in the system that need to be addressed. Mr. McClung explained that Texas has five citrus-growing zones in the three counties that produce its oranges and grapefruits which are shipped throughout the United States and the world. Those zones are prone to fruit flies, so separate protocols have been established to deal with the inevitable flies that are found each year.

Throughout the season, sterile fruit flies are released by the USDA at the rate of 125 per acre per week. Mr. McClung said that each zone has a number of finds of non-sterile flies that trigger the implementation of a strict shipping protocol. For example, once four potent flies are found in Zone 3, that zone goes under quarantine conditions, or goes "down, as Mr. McClung refers to it.

Before a zone is down, citrus can be shipped anywhere in the United States with no restrictions and no fumigation requirements. Mr. McClung explained that once a zone goes down, shippers sending the product to another citrus-producing state must either fumigate the fruit or follow a strict trapping and spraying program. Typically, Mr. McClung said that all of the zones have no restrictions through the winter and into the early spring. By April, the fly population picks up and it is not unusual for all the zones to be "down by the end of the season, which is what happened this year.

Of the two shipments found with fruit flies, one had been fumigated and the other had not. Instead, that shipper was operating under the trapping and spraying protocol.

"We obviously are frustrated, said Mr. McClung, trying to verbalize the collective feelings of the Texas citrus industry. "We have invested quite heavily over the last couple of years, making sure we are complying with all the regulations, that our chambers are up to code, so to speak, and that we have the proper procedures in place. And we still come up with live larvae. That is frustrating.

Mr. McClung said that in the world of contamination by fruit fly larvae, one bad piece of fruit does spoil the whole batch. "All of us in citrus-producing regions are very concerned about what might be brought in from outside. We don't always agree on the course of action, but California's concerns are legitimate.

He said that Texas is equally concerned about these fly finds and how they might affect the USDA with regard to Texas. He indicated that both a positive and a negative response are possible.

For the past year, a proposed regulation concerning the Texas citrus-shipping protocol under quarantine conditions has been moving through the rule-making process of the USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service. Mr. McClung explained that the rule, as originally written, would require all citrus leaving Texas from a downed zone be fumigated, regardless of destination. Texas argued against this. "In the first place, we don't have the facilities to do that, he said. "And it is unnecessary.

However, in light of these recent live larvae finds, Mr. McClung is concerned that APHIS might see fit to enact that regulation.

But on the positive side, he hopes that these finds trigger a ramping up of the sterile fly release program. Currently they release 125 flies per acre per week. Research shows that they should be releasing 500 flies per week per acre. It has been a budget issue, but maybe this will change that.

He also hopes that these larvae finds end all talk of allowing untreated Mexican citrus into the United States. "We certainly shouldn't be increasing the risk [of pest infestation] from Mexico, when we obviously still have a domestic problem.

Verdelli Farms names Kathi Metzger sales manager

Family-owned produce processor Verdelli Farms Inc., announced the promotion of 15-year company employee Kathi Metzger to sales manager.

Ms. Metzger, who joined the Harrisburg, PA-based company in 1990, previously served as Verdelli's customer service manager and has played a significant role in Verdelli's growth and success.

As customer service manager, Ms. Metzger's focus was on internal sales efforts. In her new position, she will oversee the expansion of Verdelli's revenue base through the service of existing accounts, as well as the acquisition of new accounts. She will be responsible for the management of Verdelli's internal sales force and will continue to strive for customer satisfaction.

Verdelli Vice President of Sales Mike Verdelli said that Ms. Metzger's dedication and experience have made her a key member of the company's sales force, and said that he is proud to recognize one of Verdelli Farms' most loyal employees with a well-deserved promotion.

"Kathi has been a key member of the Verdelli team for 15 years, and has a thorough understanding of all aspects of the sales department," Mr. Verdelli said. "We are extremely excited that Kathi's role will be expanding.

Verdelli Farms, which supplies fresh-cut produce to the retail and food-service markets throughout the East Coast, began in 1924 with one horse and 60 leased acres. Today, the company operates a vegetable processing plant near Harrisburg, as well as VF Transportation LLC, a trucking company, and VF Express LLC, a forward-distribution company.

Symposium shines spotlight on Sonora agriculture

CIUDAD OBREGON, SONORA, MEXICO - The Sonora agricultural community convened for an unprecedented summit April 19-21, here, at the Hotel Grande Valle Obregon to explore ways to better work together to promote Sonoran agriculture products on both a national and international level.

Sponsored by the Sonoran state government and facilitated by Novelle Consulting LLC, based in Laguna Beach, CA, the symposium, entitled Agriculture in Sonora, A Business Opportunity, is part of a five-year initiative that seeks to unite growers, marketers, financial institutions, the Sonoran government and the federal government in an effort to develop a comprehensive agricultural strategy for the state of Sonora with a focus on productivity improvements, creation of a state-of-the-art supply chain infrastructure, and the establishment of technical and marketing assistance for local growers.

The three-day session, which was attended by approximately 300 people, included speakers and panels discussions covering a range of topics, including challenges faced by local growers and a synopsis of the export opportunities available to foreign markets. Field tours to local production areas in the Yaqui and Mayo valleys as well as to the Guaymas area also were offered to attendees, as were evening activities at the Obregon Country Club and the Corona beer brewery, which provided networking opportunities.

One highlight of the symposium was a presentation given April 20 by Sonora Gov. Eduardo Bours Castelo, who challenged growers to recall their ancestry and follow the practices of their predecessors. "The Yaqui Indians produced what the market wanted, and we need to do the same, he said. "The government was not part of the [agriculture] decision-making back then. Part of our vision should be to become what we used to be.

Sonora is dominated by cotton and grain production, and Gov. Bours urged growers to undergo a "reconversion of their crops to vegetables and products that are more value-added and will bring more jobs to the area. He also urged growers to partner with organizations that have expertise in growing diverse crops, assuring them that government and financial institutions would offer assistance in modernizing operations, such as the construction of cooling and packing facilities.

The governor also said that the Sonoran agriculture industry needs to have a long-term vision - a sentiment that he said is shared by Javier Usabiaga, the secretary of agriculture for Mexico. To go on little by little is just mediocre, and Sonorans are not mediocre, said Mr. Bours. "Let's take that big leap and not just plan for now but for the long term. Let's reach for new heights.

Mr. Bours, who comes from a prominent agricultural family, also applauded the symposium and the efforts of its organizers, saying that it is "valuable to see different ways of doing things as have been presented by the international participants of the conference.

Francisco Obregon of Obregon & Associates Inc. in Nogales, AZ, who was one of the main organizers of the symposium and who hails from Ciudad Obregon, said that the farming community in the region was in need of a jump start, and the conference was one way to accomplish that goal.

What the growers saw during the symposium activated their enthusiasm, said Mr. Obregon. "When they saw what's in the marketplace, they saw the need to work from the consumer to the ranch, not the opposite. They need to realize what's in demand and then grow it.

The conditions are right for Sonoran agriculture, continued Mr. Obregon. "The weather is favorable, the U.S. border is just a couple of hours away, and there is a lot of skilled labor available, which makes Sonora an attractive area.

Mr. Obregon said that with the additional emphasis on food safety, growers have come to see that it is not a value-added component but rather part of the base product.

Mr. Obregon added, "It is the opportunity of a lifetime for [Sonoran] growers, because they have the support of government. We have a governor who is from agriculture and who has five years left in his term, so there is enough time to develop the agriculture industry. Also, the president (Vicente Fox), the secretary of agriculture (Mr. Usabiaga) and the Sonoran secretary of agriculture (Alejandro Elias Calles) are all from agriculture, so there are no 'political animals' involved in the process.

Sonoran growers also lauded the symposium for bringing their products into the spotlight. Pablo Borquez, who grows asparagus in Sonora, Caborca and Obregon, said, "We can compete with anyone in the world when it comes to producing quality products. Mr. Borquez applauded Gov. Bours for his effort to unify the Sonoran industry. "The governor wants to bring the perception of Sonoran agriculture up a level. He couldn't get the growers up to the U.S., so he decided to bring the U.S. industry down to Sonora. We believe in the governor, so we're all going to work hard for him.

Regarding the symposium, Mr. Borquez said that it "surpassed our expectations. There is an atmosphere that we've never seen before. The government is enthusiastic to help see through the five-year plan. Already, the growers are asking that [the symposium] be an annual event. When the growers saw the program and that Pancho (Francisco Obregon) was involved, they really came on board.

Roberto Gandara Sr., who grows lettuce in the Yaqui Valley, said that the symposium offered an honest and open forum for the exchange of ideas. "It was very good, he said. "The panels and speakers offered a lot of good ideas, but the key now is to make them happen.

Mr. Gandara said that he has been growing produce crops for 14 years, but admitted that he still has a lot to learn, so he was happy to have the opportunity to discuss the issues with growers and members of the agriculture community from throughout North America.