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Prospects for immigration reform may hit roadblock with Cantor’s election loss

WASHINGTON — The stunning news that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his primary bid Tuesday, June 10 may be bad news for hopes the House will take up immigration reform this year.

Cantor’s defeat stunned pundits Tuesday after he lost the Republican primary to David Brat, a Tea Party-backed candidate who works as an economics college professor.

"I think this is a scale-eight earthquake,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told CNN. “I think it will shock the Washington establishment; it will shock the House Republicans.”

Brat framed his challenge around immigration reform and attacked Cantor’s support for legislation that would allow children from undocumented adults to receive legal status. Canton, however, was not a supporter of wider immigration reform legislation.

The Senate took action on immigration reform by passing S. 744, but the House has yet to pass a single bill. While it may be too early to forecast the political fallout from Cantor’s loss, the produce industry is likely to be huddling in coming days to determine its effect on immigration reform.

Hillary kicks off United Fresh convention with ‘Hard Choices’ promo

Potential presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton kicked off the United Fresh Produce Association convention in Chicago, Tuesday afternoon, June 10, with a discussion of hard choices that she faced as secretary of state and the country faces in the future.

Not coincidentally, Hard Choices is the title of her latest book, which was released earlier in the day. Secretary Clinton was introduced at the joint UFPA/Food Marketing Institute opening general session as one of the few people in the United States who is recognizable by just her first name, and the standing-room-only crowd was a tribute to her star power.

Clinton discussed many topics during both her presentation and Q&A with Wonderful Brands Chief Executive Officer Stewart Resnick, including efforts to curb childhood obesity and encourage healthy eating choices. She applauded United Fresh’s salad bar effort and said she was opposed to the efforts in Congress to roll back the expanded fruit and vegetable standards that are part of the nation’s school lunch and breakfast programs. She said that as first lady in the 1990s and today with the Clinton Foundation, fighting childhood obesity has been a cause that she believes and devotes effort to.

During the Q&A portion of the program, she declined to announce her intentions with regard to the 2016 presidential race and said she was still considering the concept. She opined that anyone running for president of the United States should be able to articulate their vision for the country and how they propose to get their ideas accomplished.

She reviewed some of her most difficult moments as secretary of state, including the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. She called the incident the situation that she regretted most during her tenure. However, she defended the stationing of civilians in difficult situations, stating that “we live in a dangerous world” and the United States can’t withdraw from that world.

Looking forward, she expressed support for immigration reform and specifically the passage by the House of Representatives of the bill passed by the Senate last year. She said that was the best chance to achieve reform this year. Clinton said she was “bewildered by the debate” as she stated that the political leaders in both the House and the Senate and from both parties support comprehensive immigration reform. Clinton said it is a small minority of people in elective offices as well as in the general public who are against reform and are holding up the process.

Clinton said these people forget that the United States is a nation of immigrants and is better because of it. As a nation, she said, “we are stronger if we move toward immigration reform.”

The joint opening session was followed by an opening reception that survived a typical Midwest downpour to kick off the co-location of the UFPA and FMI conventions. The two organizations first formed a convention location partnership a decade ago and have held their meetings at the same location several times since then. This year marks the first year in a three-year commitment to co-locate in Chicago.

John Toner, United vice president of convention and industry relations, told The Produce News at the opening reception that the early numbers show it is going to be a successful event. He said booth sales were up 25 percent this year over last year’s show in San Diego, and registrations were sure to top last year’s show when all is said and done. “If you can exceed California numbers in the Midwest, you’ve had a successful show,” he said.

On Wednesday, June 11, Publix Supermarkets CEO Ed Crenshaw gave the keynote address, stressing just how important employees are to the success of any company. He relayed that for years Publix has been on the list of top companies to work for, and he said that is no accident. In fact, he called treating employees with dignity and respect one of the main keys to success for Publix. Quoting the company’s founder, he said it has always been a core philosophy of the firm: “If you treat your associates right, they will treat the customers right and that will increase sales and profits.”

At that same opening breakfast, United CEO Tom Stenzel vowed to fight the aforementioned effort in Congress to roll back fruit and vegetable standards in school feeding programs. He promised that “we will never go back” to previous standards.

Winners announced in 2014 'Pear up with USA Pears' display contest

Pear Bureau Northwest announced the 40 winners of its inaugural “Pear Up with USA Pears” display contest. The contest invited all retailers from across the U.S. and Canada to build an eye-catching display that features Green Anjou, Red Anjou, and Bosc pears at minimum, with inclusion of other varieties of USA Pears being encouraged. To qualify for the contest, the display was required to be maintained for at least one week during the February-to-March timeframe.pearTaking second place for the six to nine registers category was Mike Viers of Food Giant in Jackson, TN.

Entries were judged on a 100-point scale for appearance, creativity and educational effect. Ten bonus points were added to entries that included any of the jumbo-size pears that have been readily available this pear season. As recognition for their participation, all who entered were awarded a gift card for Amazon.com valued at $20.

First-, second- and third-place winners, as well as 10 honourable mentions, were named in three store categories (one to five cash registers, six to nine cash registers, and 10 or more cash registers), and a tie for first place resulted in one extra winner, for a total of 40 cash prizes being awarded.

"We received hundreds of truly impressive, very competitive entries that showed outstanding creativity in merchandising pears," Cristie Mather, Pear Bureau Northwest director of communications, said in a press release. "Because pears are a high impulse purchase item, these eye-catching displays drew shoppers in and participating retailers reported that they boosted their pear sales.

"We are pleased to have had such enthusiastic participation in this first year of our national display contest, and we are grateful to all the produce departments nationwide who create beautiful pear displays all throughout pear season,” she added.

Winners in each store category have received $1,000 for first place, $750 for second place, $500 for third place and $150 each for an honorable mention.

The winners for the one to five cash registers category:
First place: Shiela Burt, Mike’s Food Center, St. Charles, MN
Second place: Kelly Kesler, Kesler’s Market, Blackfoot, ID
Third place: Leslie MacAulay, Sackville Co-op Food Market, Sackville, NB, Canada

Honorable Mentions:
Rex Titch, TOPS Markets, Waterford, PA
Christopher Vorhies, Leon’s Gourmet Grocer, Lincoln, NE
Efren Pinera, Hilltop Red Apple, Seattle
Donald Oberg, Donelan’s Supermarkets, Lincoln, MA
Craig Alley, Ideal Grocery, Lincoln, NE
Susann Kotarba, Harding’s Friendly Markets, Eau Claire, MI
Dan Vanauker, TOPS Markets, Ontario, NY
Lauren Lyons, Creekside Co-op, Elkins Park, PA
Michelle Heneby, Marvin’s Food Stores, Dewey, OK
Patsy Frazier, Homeland, Shawnee, OK

The winners for the six to nine cash registers category:
First place: Michael Callahan, Ray’s Food Place, McKinleyville, CA
First place: Eric Dodge, Hy-Vee, Waterloo, IA
Second place: Mike Viers, Food Giant, Jackson, TN
Third place: David Dozier, GFF Foods, Moore, OK

Honorable Mentions:
Judy Gauthier, Buy-Low Foods, Athabasca, AB, Canada
Michael Garrett, Rosauers Supermarkets, Yakima, WA
Al Polard, Chuck’s Produce and Street Market, Vancouver, WA
Jason Richards, Nature’s Pantry, Independence, MO
Brian Metcalfe, Marsh Supermarkets, Carmel, IN
Derek Christensen, The Port Townsend Food Co-op, Port Townsend, WA
Joe Ruiz, Ray’s Food Place, Cloverdale, CA
Mike Midura, Fresh Acres Market, Springfield, MA
Davi Andre, Sprouts, San Diego
Dennis Houghton, Sprouts, San Antonio, TX

The winners for the 10 or more cash registers category are:
First place: Dan Atkinson, Hy-Vee, Iowa City, IA
Second place: John Sherman, Hy-Vee, Council Bluffs, IA
Third place: Josh Pederson, Hy-Vee, Winona, MN

Honorable Mentions:
Derek Perisho, Hy-Vee, Olathe, KS
Kelsey Bartels, Martin’s IGA Plus, Effingham, IL
Brad Franklin, TOPS Markets, Towanda, PA
Jessica Granier, Rouse’s Market, Thibodaux, LA
Andy Crane, Chuck’s Produce and Street Market, Vancouver, WA
Brandon Everett, Rouses Market, Slidell, LA
John Braun, Rouses Market, Covington, LA
Mario DeCaro, TOPS Market, Cheektowaga, NY
John Hugger, Rouses Market, Metairie, LA
Bryan Burch, Hy-Vee, Kansas City, MO

Cherry season off and running for Oneonta

Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers' harvest of 2014's Northwest cherries kicked off the last weekend of May, and Oneonta Marketing Director Scott Marboe said early signs point to a great season.

“The fruit is looking very nice, really clean with a good range of size," Marboe said in a press release. "Our field staff and Mother Nature have done a great job so far.”

Marboe expected that volumes should have started to pick up this past weekend, and he said this week "will be a good time to start with those early-season programs.”

Oneonta anticipates “lots of opportunity to promote until the end of August," he added in the release.

In addition to the abundant dark sweet cherries, Oneonta produces the tender, sweet light-blush Rainier, which Marboe said, "is a special cherry that needs to be picked just right; so we really make sure to harvest them at the optimum times.” The company's Rainier harvest should start in about one week.

“The cherry season is upon us and we look forward to a great summer," he said.

U.S. potato exports to Mexico are on-again-off-again

Just three weeks after the Mexican government implemented its final rule to allow U.S. fresh potatoes into larger cities throughout all of Mexico, as part of a bilateral agreement that facilitates trade in fresh potatoes between the two countries," Mexico has backpedaled and said "no" to U.S. potatoes.

The Produce News has obtained a copy of an announcement issued June 9 by SAGARPA, the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, stating that pursuant to a mandate from the Seventh District Court in the State of Sinaloa, fresh potato imports from the United States beyond a zone along the northern border would be provisionally, or temporarily, suspended.

The importation suspension will remain in effect pending a final court hearing on the matter. The announcement did not specify when that hearing might be held.

The announcement stated that under the provisional suspension, things would remain as they were before the bilateral agreement became effective. That would seem to mean that exporting potatoes to cities within 26 kilometers of the U.S. Mexican border would still be permissible as has been the case for the past 10 years.

According to Mark Szymanski, director of public relations for the National Potato Council in Washington, DC, "the Mexican potato growers association called CONPAPA filed a suit against their Ministry of Agriculture in Mexico [SAGARPA] to block the agreement" that allows for the bilateral trade in potatoes with the United States.

"We haven't seen their claims or their filing at all, so we don't have a time frame for when the courts might take up the suit," Szymanski said June 10

The announcement from SAGARPA came just 21 days after NPC and the United States Potato Board had issued a joint press release announcing that Mexico had opened its doors to U.S. potatoes to markets beyond the 26-kilometer limit that had been in place for a decade.

The announced opening of the market May 19 came "after years of hard work by the U.S. potato industry, USDA, and USTR," John Keeling, NPC executive vice president and chief executive officer, had said in a written statement to The Produce News May 21. He had expected "the full opening of the Mexican potato market to U.S.-grown spuds [to] create tremendous opportunities for all the major growing areas."

Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission, had told The Produce News May 21, that he saw the agreement as "a very monumental period in history between the two countries" with significance beyond the potato industry.

But CONPAPA and a Mexican court in the state of Sonora took a different view.

"After 10 years of working towards" the opening of the market "and you think you've got it," finding out that it's not happening after all is a disappointment, said Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail and international at the Idaho Potato Commission. "But I guess it's part of international trade."

Szymanski said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service has confirmed "all border crossing points are closed" to potatoes.

As a result of that closure, "to keep produce from waiting in trucks, APHIS has stopped issuing phytos [phytosanitary certificates]" for potatoes going to Mexico "until the border points are reopened," he said. "That is really all the information we have at this point."

Commenting on the on-again-off-again nature of the market access agreement with Mexico, Szymanski said, "I know we're not the first, and we won't be the last, to have that issue."

A customs broker and freight forwarder who is familiar with the matter informed The Produce News the afternoon of June 10 that the a group of Mexican producers had filed a suit "against the bilateral agreement" May 20, "the very first day" after the agreement took effect. He said the Mexican Court in the State of Sinaloa sustained the claim June 2. It appears that SAGARPA was notified of the court's ruling June 9, and "once served, they suspended all imports under the agreement," he said. "SAGARPA had no other option but to follow the court's instruction."

The litigants contended that "the agreement is unconstitutional, specifically against the Mexican Constitution Articles 1, 4, 14, 16, 27, 39, 40, 41 and 133," he said.

"As Freight Forwarders and Customs Brokers, we were surprised too." There were shipments at the border "in the middle of inspection process" when the announcement was made, "and this happened all along the U.S.-Mexico border."