California Fresh Fruit Association holds 79th annual board meeting under new name

The California Fresh Fruit Association kicked off its new fiscal year during its 79th annual meeting in Del Mar, CA. The event featured the election of the board of directors and chairman, as well as industry and committee updates.

The board of directors is made up of 47 men and women from operations located from as far south as Coachella Valley with fresh table grape vineyards to as far north as Lake County with pear production.

David Jackson of Family Tree Farms was re-elected as chairman of the board of directors for the 2015-16 fiscal year. The organization's officers are nominated to serve for a one-year period and are selected by a committee of past chairs.

In addition to Jackson, the slate of officers includes Harold McClarty of HMC Farms in Kingsburg as first vice-chair; Randy Giumarra of Giumarra Vineyards in Bakersfield as second vice-chair; and Louis Pandol of Pandol Bros. Inc. in Delano as secretary-treasurer.

The board welcomed new director Bill Chandler of Chandler Farms in Selma. The board also thanked three exiting directors, Stan Cosart of W.F. Cosart Packing Co. in Exeter, Tom Schultz of Chase National Kiwi Farms in Marysville and Carol Chandler of Chandler Farms in Selma.

The board meets three times a year to take action on regulatory and legislative issues at the state, federal and international level.

Prior to the annual membership meeting, the annual industry workshop featured speakers Dave Corsi of Wegmans, David McInerney of FreshDirect and Cathy Enright of The Biotechnology Industry Organization.

Corsi shared his thoughts and perspective on issues having the greatest impact on marketing fresh fruits. Specifically, he discussed the issue of food safety in relation to fresh fruit.

McInerney’s presentation concentrated on the relationship between growers and shippers.

Enright, an industry leader when it comes to genetically modified organisms, spoke on perspective affecting the fresh fruit industry in relation to the use of genetically altered products.

Ship date set for 2015 Vidalia onion season

Following the recommendation of the Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black has announced April 27 as the official shipping date for the 2015 Vidalia onion marketing season.

The 16-grower panel made the recommendation to the commissioner during a meeting held at the Vidalia Onion & Vegetable Research Center in Lyons, GA.

“The meeting was very productive,” Bo Herndon of Herndon Farms and chairman of the advisory panel said in a press release. “All members of the panel were represented and I believe we came to the best possible outcome. “

Any Vidalia onions shipped prior to April 27 must undergo a Federal-State Inspection certifying that the onions have met the established grade requirements and are under “Positive Lot Identification” as approved by the Federal-State Inspection Service. Baby Vidalia onions with greens attached may also be shipped earlier in the season.

Growers settled on the April 27 date after discussion focused on historical and scientific data regarding maturity, this year’s weather effects and market opportunity. Growers agreed that starting too early would be detrimental to the Vidalia brand.

"The worst thing we can do is start too early,” Brett McLain of McLain Farms said in the press release. “In the past we’ve done just that and have shipped immature onions and it has just about ruined our industry. And that is what we have been working with the commissioner to avoid, and I think this date will help us accomplish that.”

The later date will allow for more inspection to assure the quality and maturity of the onions meets marketing standards.

“In the past we’ve had quite a few problems while inspecting the early onions, and some growers have had to throw away quite a few onions due to immaturity,” Mike Sutton with the Georgia Federal-State Inspection Service said in the release. “With last year’s later pack date, we didn’t have near the immaturity issues, and the overall quality of the early onions was the best we’ve seen.”

After hearing from the growers, Black agreed with the April 27 ship date.

“We are pleased to once again work with our growers in the setting of this date to bring consumers the quality and unique taste of the Vidalia onion brand that they expect and deserve,” Black said in the release.

Hugh H. Branch president dies at 69

Daniel Shiver, president of Hugh H. Branch Inc., died March 24 following a diagnosis of leukemia in November. He was 69. 

Mr. Shiver started his career at Lakeshore Growers, moving on to Gressinger Produce and South Bay Growers before starting his latest stint of 30 years with Hugh H. Branch Inc.   shiver

A humble man known for his dry wit and compassionate soul, Mr. Shiver was a Vietnam veteran, a doting husband and father, and the patriarch of his family.  

“As my business partner and dear friend, Dan will forever occupy a special place in my heart and soul,” Brett Bergmann, vice president of Hugh H. Branch Inc., said in a press release. “Danny was a true Southern gentleman, a kind and compassionate man, his quest for life and the concerns of others came natural to Dan. His steady hand and unwavering patience radiated to everyone. He was the rock for all of us and we will miss him dearly.”

Mr. Shiver is survived by his loving wife, Tammy Branch Shiver, sons Justin and Ryan, and grandson Justin. He was surrounded by family members at the time of his death.

A celebration service was scheduled for March 30 at 3 p.m. at Christ Fellowship, 9905 Southern Boulevard, Royal Palm Beach, FL. Memorial donations may be made to Autism Speaks/ Autism Society or the American Cancer Society.

Colorful Harvest's new party tray expected in April

Colorful Harvest is preparing to release its eye-catching new crystal clear 20-ounce party tray that combines Rainbow Crunch carrots with multi-colored cauliflowers and a sweet onion honey Dijon dipping sauce.IMG 5276A

With more acres of colorful veggies under cultivation for the new party tray, Colorful Harvest anticipates consistent supply year-round. The first party trays are expected to come off of the line in April, coinciding with the beginning of the Salinas Valley season.

The enticing colors of the new party tray allow it to stand out on the produce rack. The company said the grab-and-go convenience will please not only party planners, but also busy parents looking for fun, healthful snacks to bring home for the family. The sweet onion honey Dijon dipping sauce serves as an alternative to ranch dressing, and the certified non-GMO heirloom-style vegetables will please the most health-conscious consumers.

It's prime time for Florida produce

The report from the field couldn't be better for Florida fresh produce. “This is prime time for spring produce from Florida,” said Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association in Maitland, FL.AssociationOverviewthumb “Right now, vegetable crops being harvested in the Sunshine State include tomatoes, snap beans, sweet corn, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, celery, squash, lettuce and other leaf vegetables. The citrus harvest continues, strawberry harvest has wrapped up, and blueberries are ramping up.”

Florida maintains a strong reputation for quality fresh items with good reason.AssociationOverviewDanny Johns of Blue Sky Farms in Elkton, FL, checks on progress of red potatoes in the field. (Photo courtesy of Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association) “Florida has so much in its favor when it comes to providing fresh, nutritious produce to the country for most of the year,” Lochridge told The Produce News. “Diversity is a key factor. Our climate allows us to produce dozens of fruits and vegetables in the dead of winter and spring when consumers in other parts of the country are digging out of the snow.”

Lochridge said Florida's fresh producers are savvy. “Growers in Florida are innovative and responsive to the marketplace. They have to be,” she commented. “They make every effort to stay in tune with consumer demand and trends, whether it’s changing tastes, variety, packaging or new ways to prepare their products.”

Florida's reputation is further bolstered by “Fresh From Florida” designation. “Our state 'Fresh From Florida' marketing program has been very aggressive in working to raise the profile of Florida produce in other states,” she went on to say. “Besides a targeted consumer advertising program, it gives retailers valuable tools to maximize exposure and promotion of fresh Florida produce.”

According to Lochridge, consumers are more curious than ever to know where their food is produced. “That’s great news for Florida specialty crop growers. It opens the door for them to talk about the crops they grow, how they grow them, and how nutritious and beneficial the food is,” she said. “Combined with technology and the use of social media, growers now have unprecedented opportunities to connect with consumers in new, innovative ways. And it’s paying off.

Because the definition of “locally grown” means different things to different people, the concept is evolving. “Here in Florida, we’re fortunate because our state produces more than 350 commodities, so just about everything we might want to buy would conceivably be local,” Lochridge stated. “In the Northeast in the dead of winter, that’s certainly not the case. Although consumers like the concept of locally produced food, they’re just as concerned about freshness, quality and value — all of which are hallmarks of Florida produce.”

Looking at production, she said weather didn't pose any significant obstacles to growers this season. “Florida was very fortunate in that we had a mild winter,” she said. “There weren’t any significant freezes causing widespread damage. Volume and timing were affected with some crops in some areas because of warm temperatures or heavy rainfall. But overall, the spring season is going well, and consumers will find fresh Florida produce in abundance.”

As is true in other areas, Florida growers continue to grapple with water issues. “You can’t talk about agriculture in Florida without talking about water,” Lochridge said. “Along with workforce, it’s the most important issue facing our growers. As Florida’s population continues to grow, demands for our finite water supply will increase. Our priority is to ensure that growers will continue to have access to the quantity and quality of water they need to keep growing food for America.”

Labor is also an issue. “Some areas have seen shortages of workers. Our organization is working with others as part of a national alliance to push for badly needed reforms to our broken immigration system,” she said. “Our growers need a solution that will ensure they can find reliable, skilled and hardworking employees now and into the future. Simply put, what we have now isn’t working and hasn’t for a long time.”

Lochridge provided on update on citrus greening. “Along with federal and state funding sources, industry has invested millions of dollars in research to try to get a handle on this devastating disease through measures such as heat therapy, best management practices, early detection and psyllid control,” she explained. “Just recently, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $30 million in funding for research projects related to greening. This disease has taken a huge toll on the industry, no doubt. But the work continues, and growers aren’t giving up.”