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SEPC plans variety of events for 2014 Fall Conference

STEP-UPP-2014At the Southeast Produce Council fall conference, the council will recognize the members of the 2014 graduating class of its STEP-UPP program, which is co-chaired by SEPC board member Faye Westfall (front row, third from right) of DiMare Fresh Tampa and by Tom Page (left), who is retired from Supervalu and who is a former president of the council.The Southeast Produce Council has an exciting and varied lineup of events planned for its annual fall conference, set this year to take place Sept. 25-27 at Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa in Young Harris, GA. This year’s theme is The Hoedown Touchdown Throwdown in Brasstown.

Last year’s fall conference in Myrtle Beach, SC, drew 287 registrants, and David Sherrod, the council’s assistant executive director, told The Produce News at the end of August that around 255 people had registered for this year’s conference so far. “When it’s all said and done, I think we’ll be right about the same number,” he estimated.

The council, which was founded in 1999 and thus is celebrating its 15th anniversary, held its fall conference at Brasstown Valley back in 2008. “It’s a beautiful place to take in nature,” said Sherrod.  "And we've got the whole resort to ourselves this time. We're excited about that."

Following meetings for committees and directors Thursday morning and afternoon, Sept. 25, the conference officially kicks off that evening with the Get Acquainted Hoedown at Brasstown with the Shoal Creek Bluegrass Band, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

On Friday, Sept. 26, two workshops will be held. Workshop I: Defining Locally Grown, which will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., will feature speakers Teri Miller of Delhaize America, Joe Watson of Rouse’s Supermarkets, Mike Tipton of K-VA-T, Darvel Kirby of United Supermarkets and Matthew Roy of US Foods. Workshop II: The Future of Online Grocers, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., will be moderated by Jonna Parker of Nielsen Perishables Group and will feature speakers Kenneth Todd of Delhaize America, Lucinda Clark of Space Girl Organics and Tony Stallone of Peapod.

The general session and luncheon will follow, beginning at 11:30 a.m. John Smoltz, a former Major League Baseball pitcher and current MLB network analyst, will deliver the keynote address. In his playing career, Smoltz was a World Series champion in 1995 for the Atlanta Braves, was an eight-time MLB All-Star, was Most Valuable Player of the 1992 National League Championship Series, and is one of 16 pitchers in MLB history to record 3,000 strikeouts during his career.

Also at the general session, Lucy Klausner, senior development officer of corporate partnerships at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, will speak about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables in the fight against childhood obesity. In her work at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta,

Outgoing SEPC President Andrew Scott of The Nickey Gregory Co. LLC then will deliver the State-of-the-Council address, and the committee chairs will give brief reports on their respective committees’ programs.

The council will officially launch its new leadership program for women called Southern Roots with a reception from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Teri Miller, a member of the SEPC board of directors and chairperson of this year’s fall conference, is also chairing the new Southern Roots program. It is “designed to make meaningful connections among women working in the produce industry through events, education and mentoring,” according to the council’s website.

Friday’s event will conclude with the always popular President’s Dinner Dance, which will begin at 7 p.m. Andrew Scott will be honored for his two years’ service as SEPC president, and the new slate of officers and directors will be introduced to attendees.

Also at the President’s Dinner Dance, the council will recognize the members of the 2014 graduating class of its Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals, which is co-chaired by SEPC board member Faye Westfall of DiMare Fresh Tampa and by Tom Page, who is retired from Supervalu and who is a former president of the council.

On Saturday, Sept. 27, the council will hold its 15th annual Ken Lanhardt Memorial Golf Tournament at the Brasstown Valley’s golf course. Registration will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m, and the tournament will start at 8:30 a.m. The golf awards reception will follow, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

For non-golfers, the council will hold a Sporting Clays Tournament. Check-in will take place from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., and the tournament, at Noontootla Creek Farms in Blue Ridge, GA, about 30 minutes from the resort, will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Spouses may sign up for a tour of the Eagle Fork Vineyards. Check-in will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., and the tour will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Transportation will be provided.

As always, the fall conference will conclude Saturday with the Ultimate Tailgate Party, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Normal California kiwifruit crop expected as light Chilean season wraps up

The board of directors of the California Kiwifruit Administrative Committee, in a meeting July 23, approved an estimate for the total volume of California kiwifruit expected to be marketed from the 2014 harvest in the range of 6.8 million to 7 million seven-pound tray equivalents.

In context, that would be considered “a normal production year,” according to Nick Matteis, assistant director of the committee.

The harvest is expected to start around the latter part of September, Matteis told The Produce News Sept. 10. That is “slightly early” compared to most years but nothing significant, he said. Shipments will continue into spring.05-Kiwi-OverviewA worker in a California kiwifruit vineyard empties a picking bag of freshly harvested fruit into a field bin.

The blooms were a week earlier than last year, “which would lead one to think we would be a week earlier on harvest,” Matteis said. However, he added that “a lot of growers are waiting for fruit to  mature a little bit more” before picking to get higher sugars and assure consumer satisfaction. The industry has minimum soluble solids requirements, and growers are permitted to harvest and ship when Brix reaches 6.2, but many growers prefer to wait until the Brix level is around 7 before picking, Matteis said.

Some packers also urge others to hold back on the harvest waiting for higher sugars, and they make “good points,” Matteis said. But “the regulations state you can ship” at 6.2, “so it is up to the packer to decide” what their own priorities are.

The crop is expected to start on a strong market, as Chilean imports during the summer have been lighter than usual due to a freeze.

Chile usually has “more significant volumes in the channels at the start of our season” than they do this year, Matteis said.

This year “it will be pretty well cleaned out, so by way of competition, it looks like everything is indicating that it should be a good marketing season in general.”

Some Italian kiwifruit will be coming into the market during the California season, mostly to the East Coast. Italy is also expected to have a normal crop this year.

There have been some questions as to whether the drought in California might affect the kiwifruit volume this year, Matteis said. The Kiwifruit Administrative Committee planned to take “another look” at the crop estimate about mid-September in the light of that concern to determine whether any adjustment in the  projection is merited, “but I haven’t heard of any significant reductions expected in volumes to date,” he said.

The primary function of the committee is to maintain grade and size standards, Matteis said. “However, we did just undergo a referendum, which passed,” to amend the federal marketing order and allow the committee to perform marketing and promotion activities “based on approval of a plan” for such activities by the board of directors. As of yet, no plan has been put forward.

Previously, marketing activities had been carried out by the California Kiwifruit Commission, but the commission  was discontinued in 2012 following a 2011 grower referendum in which we didn’t get enough votes to continue, by a very narrow margin,” Matteis said.

“Since we lost the commissions, we didn’t have that kind of function as an option for the industry,” he continued. Now, under the new amendment, the industry has the ability “to engage in that sort of activity to some extent through the committee” if the board so decides. “But currently we don’t have a formal program put together.”

FDA rolls out four food-safety proposals under the Food Safety Modernization Act

WASHINGTON — Early this morning, the Food & Drug Administration released four rewrites of the Food Safety Modernization Act rules, including some critical water quality and testing changes advocated by the industry to make produce safety regulations more workable.

Stakeholders will have 75 days to dig deep into hundreds of pages of regulations on produce safety, preventive controls for human and animal food, and the new Foreign Supplier Verification Program for importers.

“Based on valuable input from farmers, consumers, the food-industry and academic experts, the FDA is proposing to update these four proposed rules to ensure a more flexible and targeted means to ensure future safety,” said Mike Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

FDA opted for the 2012 Environmental Protection Agency recreational water quality standard, backed away from the weekly testing requirement and will allow farmers whose agriculture water don’t meet the new microbial standard to establish a sufficient interval of days between last irrigation and harvest for microbes to die off.

The agency completely abandoned its prescribed intervals between application of raw manure and crop harvest, and instead plans a multi-year risk assessment on the practice with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“At first blush, we got some of the things we told FDA was not developed appropriately, and some things we didn’t,” said David Gombas, United Fresh Produce Association’s senior vice president of food safety and technology. He said it will take some time for United Fresh working groups to analyze the hefty rule changes.

Gombas said operations would have to develop two-year baselines and conduct verification testing five times a year. Collecting 20 samples over two years is not as burdensome as the original proposal, he said.

FDA also revised the rule to no longer require farms to register as facilities if they pack or hold raw agricultural commodities grown on another farm under a different ownership.

Although FDA appears to have heard many of the criticisms about the rule, some areas remain troublesome.

FDA expanded which farms are excluded from the rule by proposing that farms or farm mixed-type facilities with an average annual monetary value of produce sales, rather than all food sales, of $25,000 or less are not covered.

“We think that’s the wrong way to go,” Gombas said. United Fresh has found that small operations can comply with the food safety controls.

The agency also did not tackle the exemption for commodities consumed raw, and, as expected, introduced new supplier controls, product testing and environmental monitoring in the proposed changes to the preventive controls for human foods.

Product testing, even as a tool to verify whether preventive controls are working, is going to be burdensome and the science is not yet clear on its value, Gombas noted.

For more information on the new proposals, go to FDA’s web site at: http://www.fda.gov/Food/NewsEvents/ConstituentUpdates/ucm415132.htm.

Fall mangos will be sourced largely from Brazil and Ecuador

With Mexico ending a bit early, Brazil and then Ecuador will be the main sources for mango supplies for the last third of the 2014 calendar year.

Typically, Mexico lasts well into September overlapping the Brazilian deal, which usually gets underway in August and has an eight- to 10-week shipping window before greater volume from Ecuador hits the market in late October and early November.

But this year cold August weather from Mexico to South America resulted in an early end to the Mexican deal and a late start for Brazil.

Albert Perez, managing member of Continental Fresh in Coconut Grove, FL, whose company specializes in Brazilian mangos, told The Produce News in early September that the Brazilian deal was running about three weeks behind schedule.

He said the firm usually gets some Brazilian mangos by the middle of August, but this year the first ship didn’t arrive into Miami until Sept. 5. He expects volume to be light through September and peak in October with good supplies in November as well.

Perez was cautiously optimistic that the Brazilian deal could capture some sales at the back end, but that will only occur if Ecuador is late, extending Brazil’s marketing window.

Sabine Henry, who is involved in tropical fruit sales for Central American Produce Inc. in Pompano Beach, FL, explained that because of the freight cost differential, Ecuadorian fruit lands in the United States at a lower cost point. And the greater volume usually leads to a market price drop. Brazil then finds it difficult to get the prices it needs to ship to North America.

At that point, which is typically late October or early November, Brazilian shippers look elsewhere for buyers for their production.

Agreeing that timing is everything, Isabel Freeland, vice president of Coast Tropical in San Diego, said this year might offer a very good timeline for fruit from Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. She spoke to The Produce News Sept. 10, one day after returning from a two-week trip that included stops in Ecuador and Peru.

“Brazil is very late,” she said. “They are two to three weeks behind last year, and it looks like they are going to have 30 percent less volume than in prior years.”

This has led to a strong market, which Henry of Central American said was at a solid $9 during the week of Sept. 8.

Freeland said Brazil’s late start would normally result in a shorter deal, but that might not be the case this year.  

“Ecuador is also late,” she said. “They don’t look like they are going to get started until week 39, which is the week of September 21. They won’t ship until week 40 [the last week of September], and that will only be the Ataulfos (yellow-skinned mangos). The red fruit, which is what competes with Brazil, won’t start until around October 15.”

With that start date, Freeland does not expect red mangos from Ecuador to hit the U.S. market until very late October, giving Brazil great access to the U.S. retail trade through that month and into November. If that occurs, Brazil can still achieve about an eight- to nine-week market widow unfettered by cheaper fruit.

After surveying some orchards and talking to people in the Ecuadorian mango industry, Freeland believes that country will also be down as much as 30 percent for this year. On the plus side, she expects the volume to be more evenly spread out over a two-month period, creating better marketing conditions.  

Following Ecuador, Peru should enter the U.S. market with fruit by early January. This will also be a bit late, as Freeland said the same weather issues affecting Mexico, Brazil and Ecuador are affecting Peru.

“I was just there last week and it was very cool in the nights,” she said. “You never have to wear a sweater in the evening, but I had to on this trip.”

Peru should have a good supply of mangos throughout January and well into February. Freeland said that despite the reduced volume from the Central America and South American countries this fall, there should be promotable volume from these countries throughout November and well into December and then again in January and February.  At that point, Mexico will have fruit again and the cycle will begin anew.

California date harvest running one to two weeks early with good quality

“The crop is starting early this year,” said Lori Cooper,  manager of the California Date Administrative Committee in Indio, CA, in an interview with The Produce News Sept. 3. It is running anywhere from seven days to 14 days ahead of normal, “depending on where you are in the valley.”

The California Date Administrative Committee is a federal marketing order covering date growers in Riverside County, encompassing the date-growing regions of the Coachella Valley.07-DateNut-CalDateA California date palm. (Photo courtesy of California Date Administration Committee).

While there are about 30 varieties of dates grown in the valley, the two largest commercially grown varieties are Medjool and Deglet Noor.

The Medjool harvest, which normally starts about mid-September, was already under way, Cooper said. “Deglets normally start about the first couple of weeks in October, but there may actually be Deglets coming in the last week of September” and very likely by Oct. 5 this year.

“I have heard from a couple of handlers that the crop on the Deglets looks really good this year,” she said. “So far, they have been blessed by not receiving a lot of rain. That is always the culprit when it comes near to harvest.” So far this year, the rains have been holding off, she said. Growers “have been watching the weather forecast,” but none of the monsoons that often come in late summer have moved into the growing areas. “It has been humid, but we haven’t had any heavy rains so we are happy about that.”

Growers are welcoming the early start to the harvest this year. “They certainly need it,” Cooper said, “because the last two crops came in a little less than they anticipated … and they have pretty much depleted a lot of their inventories.”

For the last 10 or 15 years, the industry has been going through a process of old groves being taken out and new ones being planted, Cooper said. Total acreage has remained fairly constant at around 9,000 acres.

The mixture of new groves coming into production, old groves that are declining in production or being taken out of production and other acreage that is continuing in production makes estimating the crop size difficult, she said.

 As in the past, the date committee’s promotional activities are largely event oriented. “For the upcoming season, we are going to kick it off” with participation in the Produce Marketing Association expo in Anaheim, CA, on Oct. 17-19, she said. California Dates exhibited  at PMA in Anaheim two years ago, with Oliver Wolf, executive chef with J.W. Marriott Desert Springs  Resort & Spa in Desert Springs, CA, preparing date dishes at the booth for show attendees to sample.

This year, California Dates is exhibiting at a larger booth and bringing in a different chef — Eric Theiss, restaurant owner, on-air chef and cookbook publisher.

The date committee will be participating in several high profile local events in the Coachella Valley in 2015, beginning with a dates-and-wines event called “Open Your Heart” in collaboration with the American Heart Association, she said. About a week later, California Dates will again be participating in a “Go Red for Women” event sponsored by the American Heart Association.

In the middle of February, “we are back into the Date Festival again. That is where we have chefs every day that are creating dishes for the public to sample. We have done this now about eight years,” she added.

In April, the date committee will be participating in the California Dietetic Association conference “where we have an exhibit, give out samples and greet the dieticians,” Cooper said.

The California Date Committee has also increased its involvement in nutritional research of dates.