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ELIZABETH CITY, NC — North Carolina's potato season is short but sweet: six weeks starting in mid-June and all done by the end of July. It fills a critical summer window that comes on as storage supplies dwindle and the Florida fresh crop wraps up.

About two-thirds of the North Carolina crop goes to the snack food industry while the remaining reds, yellows and whites make their way to produce departments as fresh table potatoes. None of the crop ever sees so much as a single minute in storage.

That's why events like the ongoing variety trials conducted here by the North Carolina State Extension Service — and the accompanying annual field day and business conference conducted by the North Carolina Potato Association — are so important.

The Produce News was along for the ride this year and talked to buyers and growers about what makes a great North Carolina potato — and the people who keep the deal going and growing in importance.

Avocados from Peru hosted a superfoods breakfast May 27 to honor the 2,000 men and women of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps who proudly serve on board the USS Bataan. The breakfast featured Peruvian avocados and other superfoods from the South American nation and was timed to take advantage of the patriotism associated with Fleet Week and the Memorial Day holiday weekend. This was the second year the Peruvian Avocado Commission hosted such a breakfast, following last year's event aboard the USS Cole in Port Everglades, FL.

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VIDALIA, GA — Some growers here are calling this the best Vidalia onion crop in 30 years — all agree it's the best in recent memory with great volume and sizing trending toward jumbo and colossal.

The last of the onions in the field will be cleaned up any day now, with storage facilities already full and a guarantee of premium Vidalias through August, making for a seamless transition to the Peruvian season.

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Half Your Plate has launched a new series of instructional cooking videos geared at educating consumers on how to select, store and prepare popular vegetables. Each video features a unique recipe created by Chef Michael Smith and shows the basics of preparing produce. The video series features tomatoes, potatoes, celery, cucumbers, creamer potatoes, butternut squash, brussels sprouts and mushrooms. Five videos have been launched this week, with the remaining five to launch in the fall of 2016.

“I’m passionate about teaching simple cooking methods that can dramatically amp up your food lifestyle. Our Half Your Plate videos prove that healthy cooking is not hard cooking,” said Chef Smith. “Eating lots of fruits and vegetables everyday remains one of the single most powerful lifestyle choices you can make."

The Half Your Plate program is managed by the Canadian Produce Marketing Association in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society, Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, and Canadian Public Health Association. A simple message, Half Your Plate encourages Canadians to make healthier meal choices without measuring, one meal at a time. The interactive Half Your Plate website is a one-stop-shop for recipes, print resources and videos all about fruits and vegetables.

“One of the major barriers to healthy eating is a lack of proper food skills,” said Rick Alcocer, chair of the CPMA marketing committee and senior vice president of fresh sales for Duda Farm Fresh Foods. “An essential step to developing food skills, quick educational videos are the perfect way to give Canadians the confidence to try new meals in the kitchen and live a healthier life.”

The following videos are available today at www.halfyourplate.ca:

CPMA said its sponsors — BCfresh, Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Highline Mushrooms, the Little Potato Co., Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, RedSun Farms, the United Potato Growers of Canada and Canadian Horticultural Council — made these videos possible.

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At the peak of cherry production last season, CMI navigated a drone through the new McDougall & Sons Baker Flats facility, capturing close up action of the organized chaos that is cherry packing. CMI released the new video this week and the flyover offers an incredible view of cherries that only an aerial drone camera can capture.

State-of-the-art cherry packing is spectacular to see, said Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for CMI. “It’s such a fast and furious process and we knew customers and consumers would enjoy seeing this unique behind the scenes footage,” he said in a press release. “We pushed the drone to get as close to the action as possible showing our magnificent cherry packing operation, from giant waterslides to gleaming stainless machinery and state-of-the-art technology.”Natures-Candy-euro-box-2

The capabilities of the new McDougall cherry facility are significant. The new plant processes 15 tons of cherries per hour with technological improvements superseding past production by 50 percent. “Our new red and Rainier cherry lines exceeded every expectation last season and we’re anticipating even greater performance when we launch the 2016 season next week,” Bryon McDougall, operations manager for the McDougall & Sons facility, said in the press release. “The sizing accuracy and defect sorting is raising the bar on quality and is a true testament to the effectiveness of this new sorting and packing technology.

“Using this technology to raise the bar on quality means less shelf shrink for retailers and a better product for consumers to take home”, said McDougall.

The new cherry facility is the third in a series of packing technology improvements by CMI affiliated packing facilities. Prior to last season, Double Diamond in Quincy and Columbia Fruit Packers in Wenatchee added new cherry sorting and packing technology to their operations.

The sheer scale of the new 80,000-square-foot Baker Flats facility requires a virtual army of pickers just to keep supplies of freshly picked cherries abundantly available to run across the production line. Because of the delicate nature of the fruit, all fresh cherries are hand-harvested. A trained and experienced crew of 30 pickers can harvest about one ton of fresh cherries per hour. With the new facility packing cherries across a double shift, thousands of pickers are required just to have sufficient fruit to keep the line running.

“Our goal was to use technology that would allow us to efficiently deliver the best and most consistent quality to our customers,” said McDougall. “We feel we’ve achieved that goal and will continue to push to exceed it.”

CMI’s Northwest cherries will be shipping June 1, with sales peaking mid June through early July.