WASHINGTON — Tuesday’s Republican landslide will change the political landscape on Capitol Hill as the produce industry fights for immigration reform, Child Nutrition Act reauthorization, trade access and other legislative reforms in 2015.
While some election results still are not final, Republicans in the House gained at least 13 seats, handing them a historic majority, and took control of the Senate by picking up at least seven seats.
“There were several positive outcomes from the election,” said Matt McInerney, Western Growers executive vice president.
“A Republican-led Congress will work with business to strengthen the economy which will help our produce industry. We can now expect action on tax reform and trade such as passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, among other business-related issues,” he said.
One thing for certain is the GOP takeover of the Senate changes the makeup of the Senate Agriculture Committee, with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) stepping aside as chair of the powerful committee next year.
She may be replaced by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), who narrowly won his reelection bid, though committee leaderships won’t be finalized for a few weeks. There’s also speculation Stabenow may move off the committee altogether and take a seat on the Senate Budget Committee. The committee will further change when three members — Sens. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Johanns (R-NE) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) — retire and open more spots for Republicans.
On the House side, House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) steps down under House GOP term-limit rules and Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX) appears a leading candidate for chairmanship.
The good news is that many of the members the United Fresh Produce Association supported are coming back, although Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), a longtime champion for the produce industry, is battling for his political future in a too-close-to-call race against Republican challenger Johnny Tacherra, said Robert Guenther, United Fresh’s public policy vice president.
“That’s one member we’d be certainly disappointed if he lost,” he said.
With the House and the Senate controlled by Republicans, Guenther says it’s time for Congress to act on immigration reform.
“The way I look at it, there’s no more excuses at this point,” he said, referring to complaints the party split between the House and Senate delayed action on immigration reform. United Fresh plans to make immigration reform a top priority in 2015 and hopes the administration and House and Senate leadership can hammer out a compromise.
McInerney agreed: “As for immigration reform, with all due respect to the president, the speaker and the new Senate majority leader, it’s well past time to rebuild the bridge to compromise.”
“I don’t believe it is impossible to reach a legislative and bipartisan agreement on immigration reform. If border security is the issue that needs to be tackled first, then tackle it,” he said, insisting that border security and immigration reform should not be mutually exclusive.
If President Obama opts to bypass Congress and move on immigration reform through executive action, that could change the dynamics on Capitol Hill.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) already warned Obama on Nov. 6 against moving independently. “I believe that if the president continues to act on his own, he is going to poison the well,” Boehner said. ”When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself, and he’s going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.”
Another legislation priority for 2015 is the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which expires next summer.
Guenther acknowledges it will incumbent on the produce industry to educate new and existing members of Congress on the importance of a healthy food program for school kids and to the industry in a way to cut through some of the polarized politics on the issue. The produce industry has been busy in recent months trying to beat back attempts led by the School Nutrition Association to delay implementing new nutrition standards in schools.
Other priorities include accelerating trade agreements, fixing highway legislation and enacting tax reforms.
Congress is likely to be watching implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, especially when the final regulations are issued, and could revisit the court-ordered timeline if necessary, Guenther suggested.
Other sources say the new leaders in the Senate may step up oversight of government programs, including FDA.
Duda Farm Fresh Foods marks the start of the California-grown citrus season with a large variety of items available now in promotable volumes.
“The Navel oranges crop is off to an early start this season and the fruit is exceptionally sweet,” Paul Huckabay, Duda Western citrus sales manager, said in a press release.
“The Navel orange sizing is slightly smaller than the past few seasons and we are seeing a lot of excitement surrounding bag promotions for the holidays,” Huckabay said. “We anticipate some fruit growth over the next few months and hope to have larger sized fruit near Christmas or the first of the year.”
Supplies of lemons are abundant from the California desert region. The Duda lemon crop has an even distribution of sizes which will appeal to both retail and foodservice customers.
“We plan to transition harvest to the central San Joaquin Valley district in December and then continue production into spring,” Huckabay said.
Mandarins also had an early start to the season this year, and the fruit size is moderate to slightly larger with a nice eating quality.
“We have good volume now and we are well positioned for holiday ads as we move into November and December,” he said. “We will have good volume from early January all the way through March and into early April.”
Lastly, Duda started shipping Meyer lemons the last week of October — a full week earlier than last year. The Dandy one-pound Grab n’ Go bag is updated this year to reflect new recipes and uses for Meyer lemons. The quality is excellent with smooth, well-shaped fruit and a sweet and juicy interior, Huckabay said.
"Meyer lemons are one of the last really seasonal items in the product department, and that creates excitement for the overall citrus set and brings attention to the category,” he said.
The company projects good volume of Meyer lemons for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and continuing through March.
Duda is supporting sales with new seasonal packaging, data and an online sales kit that includes recipes for consumers and point-of-sale material.
TUBAC, AZ — Jim Kolbe, a national leader supporting global trade, spoke Oct. 30 on that topic during an educational session at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas 45th annual convention.
From 1985 until 2003, Kolbe was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Arizona's 5th congressional district. He introduced unsuccessful legislation for a U.S.-Mexican Free Trade Agreement two years before the North American Free Trade Agreement, which also involved Canada, passed by an easy margin in 1993.
Since his first term, Kolbe has served in many related capacities, always favoring free trade. He is currently the Senior Transatlantic Fellow for the German Marshall Fund and is the co-chairman of the Arizona Transportation & Trade Corridor Alliance.
Kolbe opened his remarks by noting that in an ideal world, all countries would have one standard trade agreement. But, he said, the World Trade Organization involves 160 countries and having all members agree on anything is "almost impossible."
He added that countries that do have free trade agreements are 16 times more likely to buy and sell with one another. Some of the strength of that statistic is attributable to close geographic proximity, such as what exists with Mexico, the United States and Canada within NAFTA. But he said there are other success stories for non-contiguous trade partners.
Kolbe noted that of the globe's top 20 or 25 trading counties, Americans have the most negative attitude toward free trade. He said that only 20 percent of Americans believe that global trade creates jobs, while 60 percent believe global trade will cost American jobs and 20 percent are unsure.
"Produce growers know it creates jobs," he added. But because of public perception, "it is an uphill battle" to promote free trade within the United States.
The two presidents Bush and Bill Clinton all "understood the value of free trade," he said, explaining this partly relates to George W. Bush and Clinton having both served as governors, which is a position that causes political leaders to especially appreciate the value of trade to building an economy.
Kolbe said that President Obama, coming from a role of "community organizer and law professor," who is "beholden to labor unions ... doesn't see trade in the same light."
Still, the president was warm toward the passage of the Transpacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. In campaigning, Obama indicated he would ask for Trade Promotion Authority (once called "Fast Track" trade authority.) But Kolbe said that the day after Obama's inauguration, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated that the Senate would never grant Trade Promotion Authority. The topic was dropped by the Obama administration.
With the Transatlantic treaty, "the United States, which is with largest market in the world, would, with the Europeans, dictate standards for the rest of the world. If we don't do this, China will take the lead. We would rather take the lead."
Speaking in Tubac a few days before Election Day, Kolbe stressed the importance of these matters. Interestingly, a CNN report on Nov. 5 indicated that these treaties and supportive work may be revisited, with the shift toward Republican leadership.
In the question-and-answer session following Kolbe's formal remarks, Kolbe was asked how he saw the future of the world.
Kolbe said he is basically an optimist, but he is concerned about the future in both the economic and political realms. Economically, he said, Europe is facing a decline. Japan is looking at another recession and fast growth in India and Brazil has stalled. Kolbe said the Chinese economy is also slowing. He does believe the United States economy is growing, so he is hopeful that power will continue and can raise the economic strength of our trading partners.
Kolbe is also concerned politically. The aggressive terrorist ISIS activity in Syria and Iraq first brought a war-weary American reaction disfavoring U.S. boots on the ground.
But Kolbe believes that Americans are turning their attitude to recognize that the United States is simply bound to its role as protector of the world. He said it may be inevitable that the American military must again step in to try and make things right.
Beachside Produce LLC, a grower-shipper located in Guadalupe, CA, is approaching peak season of production for its California brussels sprouts and celery. The company said quality is outstanding and supplies will be plentiful through the Thanksgiving pull and well into the Christmas holiday season.
All of Beachside's brussels sprouts are grown domestically in Lompoc and Guadalupe, CA. Product will ship from both the Lompoc and Santa Maria valleys. The sprouts are offered in iced 25-pound regular and Jumbo sizes in both carton and RPC packs. In addition, the product lineup will include 18 one-pound packs offered in RPCs as well.
The popular and festive nine-count brussels sprout stalks are also available through the holiday period. The entire stalk can be roasted in an oven and makes a special presentation on a holiday table.
Beachside celery is in full swing as well, with ample supplies predicted from mid-November through January. The Celery will be available in naked packs and sleeves in 24, 30 and 36 sizes. Celery sticks and hearts will be packed weekly for the holiday pull in both retail and club packs.
In addition to brussels sprouts and celery, Beachside Produce also handles broccoli, artichokes, cauliflower, mix and head lettuce, kale, cilantro and strawberries.
The makers of Wonderful Pistachios, POM Wonderful and Wonderful Halos are bringing its newest and sweetest sensation — Wonderful Sweet Scarletts Texas red grapefruits — to produce aisles nationwide.
Sweet Scarletts are grown, packed and shipped in Texas by Paramount Citrus, a leading North American citrus grower. The warm Texas climate, with its sunny days with cool nights, yields the sweetest premium red grapefruits. Sweet Scarletts will be in season and available throughout the United States and Canada from November through May.
"Sweet Scarletts are so sweet, they will change the way you think about grapefruits," David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus, said in a press release. "Texas red grapefruits are not only a simple healthy snack, but they are also a perfect addition to salads, smoothies and even as a dessert."
Texas red grapefruit has a number of health benefits and can be easily incorporated into a healthy eating or weight management plan. Half of a medium grapefruit is roughly 60 calories and provides 100 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. In addition, Sweet Scarletts grapefruit is positively verified by the Non-GMO Project.
"Wonderful Brands is known for transforming commodities like pistachios, pomegranates, almonds and mandarins into healthy brands, and we're looking to do the same thing with grapefruits," Krause added in the press release. "When consumers choose Wonderful Sweet Scarletts, they know they're enjoying a premium product that was cared for by us from tree to table."
Wonderful Sweet Scarletts are sold in five-, eight- and 10-pound bags, as well as in an eight-pound box and as loose individual fruit in produce aisles of leading grocery, mass merchant and club stores.
The launch will be supported with new displays, point-of sale materials, retailer promotions, free standing inserts, consumer print, customer-specific marketing programs as well as public relations and digital activations. For more information, visit SweetScarletts.com.