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Stemilt introduces Rushing Rivers as its new pear label

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According to a recent research study by SHS called FoodThink, the majority of today’s consumers (65 percent) want to know more about where their food comes from. Stemilt is fulfilling that wish with the introduction of a new label for its pears, called "Rushing Rivers," which highlights the company’s position growing and packing pears in two renowned pear locales: the Wenatchee River Valley and Entiat River Valley in Washington state.

With harvest already under way on its 2014 pear crop, Stemilt will begin packing pears in a new "Rushing Rivers" carton. The white box features the Rushing Rivers logo and tagline “the best pear locales in the world,” along with a short story that tells consumers where the pears inside came from and how they were grown.Stemilt-Carton-2014-White

“Consumers are looking for transparency when it comes to food and fruit, and our pears have a special story to tell,” Roger Pepperl, Stemilt's marketing director, said in a press release. “'Rushing Rivers' pears are born and raised in the premier growing grounds for pears, where the combination of alpine mountains, clean rivers and fertile soils creates the perfect environment for growing clean, high-quality and dessert-flavored pears.”

The Wenatchee River Valley and Entiat River Valley run parallel of each other, separated only by the peaks of the Cascade Mountain range. Stemilt and its long-time pear partners, Peshastin HI-UP Growers, a leading growers cooperative, have been farming pears in these river valleys for decades.

“Pears are right at home in these two valleys,” said Pepperl. “The hillsides protect our trees from the heat of the summer, keeping delicate pears cool and comfortable. Clean air draws down from the mountains through the orchards to keep air flowing through each tree, which results in cleaner fruit. And the rivers in these locales are both recharged each spring by fresh mountain snowpack, delivering a plentiful and pure water sources for our pears.”

Stemilt and HI-UP’s presence in these two pear regions extends beyond their orchards. Each company has its own state-of-the-art pear facility located in the region for packing all of Stemilt’s "Rushing Rivers" pears. HI-UP has two modern packinglines located in Peshastin, WA, and Stemilt’s Miller Street facility in Wenatchee, WA, features two updated packinglines and ThermalTech Tarpless ripening rooms for delivering ready-to-eat pears.

“We grow, pack and ship pears right in these famous pear districts. Stemilt and HI-UP’s strong alignment on pears gives us great packing flexibility and allows us to deliver fresh, flavorful pears to stores most months of the year,” said Pepperl.

To share the Rushing Rivers pears story with consumers, Stemilt created a Rushing Rivers page on its website with a trailer video that tells the story of the pear locales and Stemilt’s rich heritage farming pears there. Now that pears are coming off the tree, Stemilt will expand its consumer storytelling to social media and its blog, The Stem.

Stemilt is also encouraging retailers to tell the story of Rushing Rivers when promoting pears this fall. Rushing Rivers cartons can be used to build prominent displays, and Stemilt can support promotions with signage that builds mystique and romance around its premium quality pears.

San Luis Valley Potato Festival celebrates spud harvest

Each fall the San Luis Valley's many potato farms and packing sheds, along with individuals and families who contribute to Colorado's rich potato legacy, are celebrated with a harvest festival — and this year's is shaping up to be one for the history books.

On Sept. 5 and 6 the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee will host the 2014 Potato Festival in Monte Vista not only with an expanded schedule of Friday evening and all day Saturday but also with an expanded focus. As it pays tribute to the Valley's No. 1 industry, the event will also recognize local servicemen and women who fought and died to keep the United States free.

veterans-parkDonations at the 2014 San Luis Valley Potato Festival will go toward completion of the Faith Hinkley Memorial Park. (Photo courtesy of CPAC)According to Linda Weyers, assistant director of CPAC, the Potato Festival will kick off Friday, Sept. 5, at 5 p.m. with a family-style dinner in the Glen Martinez Memorial Pavilion at Chapman Park on Highway 160 west of downtown Monte Vista. Following the dinner, Colorado Springs singer and entertainer Arch Hooks will begin his performance at 5 p.m. in the pavilion, a structure built in fall 2008 to honor fallen Marine Sgt. Glen Martinez of Monte Vista.

Both dinner and concert are free to the public, and donations will be accepted to go toward expanding the Faith Hinkley Memorial Park in Monte Vista. That park was created in memoriam of 23-year-old Army Sgt. Faith R. Hinkley.

Sgt. Martinez died at age 31 in May 2008 when the Humvee in which he was riding hit a roadside bomb in Iraq. Sgt. Hinkley died in August 2010 when her unit came under attack in Baghdad. Both Martinez and Hinkley were Monte Vista residents and graduates of Monte Vista High School, and both were recipients of numerous medals and ribbons for their service.

Weyers said a portion of the Hinkley Park expansion will include a veterans memorial wall, which will bear the names of all fallen heroes from the region who have died in action.

Saturday's activities start at 8 a.m. with the arts & crafts and food fair in Chapman Park. An antique tractor display will run simultaneously, and homemade ice cream — and free baked potatoes from the San Luis Valley — will be served until 5 p.m.

As in years past, a free Potato Field Bus Tour running from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. will provide festival-goers the opportunity to learn how potatoes are grown, harvested, packed and shipped, and CPAC will be selling bags of SLV potatoes, T-shirts and cookbooks at its booth. Weyers said that while most of the activities are being conducted at no charge, all donations on Saturday will also go to work on the veterans park.

Always a favorite with the crowd is the annual chefs competition and judging, which brings several professional and student chefs from the American Culinary Federation Colorado Chapter together in a spirited contest to create their tastiest potato dishes. That portion of the festival runs from 12:30-2:30 p.m., and from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. a Downtown Potato Recipe Tasting Tour will give the public a sampling of the versatility and flavor of San Luis Valley spuds.

Throughout the day live entertainment will be provided by Boulder musician Danny Shafer, and kids will be kept busy with a full slate of festival carnival games and competitions, including the popular Potato Decorating and Potato Shooting contests.

For additional information on field tours and cook-off times and locations, contact Weyers at 719/852-3322 or visit the CPAC on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest as well as its website, www.coloradopotato.org.

Door to China reopens for California citrus

After more than 14 months of being denied official access to the Chinese market, the California citrus industry was notified verbally the week of July 28 and in writing Monday, Aug. 4 that China was once again open for exports of California citrus.

"We are very happy the market is open," Jim Cranney, president of the California Citrus Quality Council, told The Produce News Aug. 7. "We estimate [China] to be approximately a $70 million market" and growing, with "somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million cartons of California citrus going into China annually before the market closed.

Primary varieties shipped to China are Navel oranges, lemons and Valencia oranges, according to a press release from California Citrus Mutual. "[South] Korea and Canada continue to lead in terms of cartons received, but China is gaining on both as an export destination."

Access to the market is contingent on documented adherence to strict cultural practices, "and fruit must be inspected prior to leaving shipping point," the release stated.

The reopening of the market is important for the California citrus industry "because any time you have a significant market that is closed, that fruit has to be diverted to other markets," said Cranney. "That additional supply tends to put downward pressure on the prices."

Fortunately, the adverse impact of China's closing was "maybe not as dramatic as it could have been" because the crop size was somewhat reduced by a "significant freeze" last December, right at the start of the shipping season, he said.

As the 2014-15 season approaches, the industry is hoping for more normal production, and "we are going to need every market open and available to us," Cranney said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Heath Inspection service "did a brilliant job working on their end to communicate with their counterparts [in China] and provide them with everything they were looking for and really shepherd this whole agreement through and get it to the finish line in good shape," he said. "I think both countries really win, because our industry has an opportunity to ship into a very dynamic and important market, from an economic standpoint, and I think consumers in China are going to be very happy with the high quality citrus that is produced in California."

The market was closed around April 2013 after "China's regulatory agency, AQSIQ [General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine] had intercepted a few containers that were tested and found to have a plant disease infection called phytophthora," Cranney said.

Immediately, the California Citrus Quality Council went to work "with our plant pathologist here in California at UC-Riverside, and we put together a mitigation plan that included some grove-management practices and a post-harvest management fungicide. We worked with the Chinese authorities and with APHIS ... providing them with technical information about how this package would work, demonstrating its efficacy."

In November 2013, during an annual meeting APHIS holds with its counterparts in China, "there was an agreement to go ahead and accept this systems approach to controlling phytophthora," based on the condition that AQSIQ first do safety assessment of the post harvest fungicide, potassium phosphite. That safety assessment would involve another agency in China, the Institute for the Control of Agrochemicals, Ministry of Agriculture. But "we found out that it was going to take a long period of time, approximately two years, for ICAMA to work out the registration and approval for the use of this chemical."

Fortunately, APHIS "was able to intervene" and come to an agreement with Chinese regulators "that the grove-management practices that would be in place should be sufficient to control phytophthora infection," so the requirement for potassium phosphite postharvest treatment "was dropped from the program," he said.

In July, the California citrus industry hosted a small delegation from China that visited groves and packinghouses and met with APHIS.

'Ultimately they were confident that we would be able to implement the mitigation measures," Cranney said. "Shortly after that, we got word that the market was going to be opened."

Chiquita receives $611 million buyout offer

Chiquita Brands International, which in March announced a proposed merger with Dublin, Ireland-based Fyffes plc, received an unsolicited $611 million buyout offer from the Cutrale Group and the Safra Group.

The pair of companies proposed to acquire 100 percent of the outstanding stock of Chiquita Brands Inc. at a price of $13 per share in cash to Chiquita shareholders. This proposal represents a premium of 29 percent to Chiquita's closing share price of $10.06 as of Aug. 8; however, since the offer was announced Chiquita's stock has risen to more than $13 per share.

The proposal was conveyed to Chiquita in a letter to Kerrii Anderson, chairwoman of the Chiquita board of directors, and Edward Lonergan, Chiquita's president and chief executive officer.

"If we are able to proceed on a timely basis with due diligence and discussions, we will be in a position to close the transaction before the end of the year, within the same timeframe [Chiquita has] indicated for the Fyffes transaction, without the execution risk and uncertainty inherent in that transaction," the senior management team's Michael Rubinoff said on behalf of the Cutrale Group and the Safra Group.

"Our proposal also offers a superior valuation compared to Chiquita's historical trading multiples," he said in the letter. "The proposed price, including the assumption of Chiquita net debt, represents an 11.8x multiple of Chiquita's last twelve months reported Adjusted EBITDA."

The proposed offer is not subject to any financing conditions.

"We believe discussions of a potential transaction are now particularly timely and appropriate as a result of the dismissal of the civil claims relating to Chiquita's alleged involvement in the actions by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, the results from your recent second quarter earnings announcement, and the market's valuation of the Fyffes transaction," Rubinoff said.

The Cutrale Group, which accounts for over one-third of the $5 billion orange juice market, has operations that include oranges, apples, peaches, lemons and soybeans. The Safra Group is an international group of companies and assets controlled by Joseph Safra. The Safra Group, with assets under management of over $200 billion and aggregate stockholder equity of approximately $15.3 billion, operates banks and invests in other businesses.

The companies asked Chiquita to respond by noon on Friday, Aug. 15.

Tree nut market likely to feel pinch from Putin's retaliation

WASHINGTON - California-grown tree nuts may be hard hit by Russian President Vladimir Putin's ban on food imports that went into place this week in retaliation to sanctions imposed over the Ukraine conflict.

Putin signed the Aug. 6 order that targets not only U.S. exports of fruits and vegetables but also a wide variety of foods originating from European Union countries as well as Canada, Australia and Norway. The one-year ban covers beef, pork, poultry, fruits, vegetables, fish, seafood, cheese, milk and other commodities.

U.S. exporters shipped $1.3 billion worth of food and agricultural products to Russia in fiscal year 2013, and the leading categories include poultry/meat ($310 million); tree nuts ($172 million) and soybeans (147 million), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Russia ranks as the 11th largest export market ($138.6 million) for U.S. almonds and the sixth export market for pistachios ($30.9 million).

"That's a pretty good chunk for our industry," said Ken Gilliland, international trade director for Western Growers Association, based in Irvine, CA. "If suddenly that market disappears, it takes time to find other markets."

Long-term contracts will have to be entangled, and the latest trade sanctions will have to be absorbed as California growers struggle with water issues.

Another market likely to feel some discomfort from the trade war is fresh fruits. Russia imported $35.6 million worth of U.S. tree fruits last year.

Russia ranks as the third-largest export market for pears ($12.1 million), and the 28th largest market for table grapes ($2.7 million).

But U.S. suppliers won't be the only ones feeling the pain. The latest trade squabble may end up hurting Russian consumers more than U.S. businesses.

"It is unfortunate that the biggest losers in this will be Russian consumers, who will pay more for their food now as well as in the long run," said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.