ATLANTIC, CITY, NJ — New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher began his annual State-of-the-State of Agriculture address Wednesday morning, Feb. 10, at New Jersey's 101st State Agricultural Convention with a tribute to Charles M. Kuperus, who served as the state's sixth secretary of agriculture from 2002 to 2008 and who died Dec. 30, 2015, at the age of 57.
"He accomplished so much," Fisher told delegates assembled for the convention, held here at Harrah's Resort Waterfront Conference Center. In a short video, one New Jersey official cited the former secretary's "professionalism," another called him "knowledgeable and compassionate," another called him "an extraordinarily good man, and another said, "The state is far better for his service to agriculture."
Turning to the state of agriculture in New Jersey, Fisher said he was "extremely proud to stand before you in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture's 100th anniversary." Thanks to records and books that date back to the beginning of the department, "We can glean information about what topics were foremost on the minds of the delegates and the department in 1916," he said. "Topics like the inspection of raspberries, blackberries and dewberries in order to ensure berries shipped to other states did not carry diseases with them."
To be sure, he said, "Some issues that affect you as farmers today — destructive weather, animal and plant diseases, how to market agricultural crops, methods of conserving soil and water — were all being dealt with by New Jersey farmers in the year the department was born. But would your forefathers even imagine some of the other issues you all will deal with at this convention?" he asked, such as wireless communications, drones and experiments with cross-breeding plant species that "would someday reach the genetic level and kick off a national debate about GMOs."
Secretary Fisher continued, "Consider the pace of technology today vs. the pace of technology in the early 1900s. It took close to 100 years to move from Bell's laboratory to the cellphones we all carry around today. Technology moves faster and faster. More than likely, we will not even be able to conceive of the issues that New Jersey's agricultural delegates will address a mere 30 years from now, let alone 100."
Broad categories of issues may stay the same, "but the expansion of them will likely be extreme," he stated. "For instance, in sales, what was once a commodity-style marketing through a cooperative organization becomes a household-specific, highly targeted direct marketing approach."
The department "strives to remain forward-thinking," he said. "We are planning for conserving resources; we are addressing school nutrition in a way that helps build the next generation of consumers for your farm products."
For the most part, "change is the one thing that remains constant," said Fisher. "What will stay the same, at least we hope so, are the things this state's agriculture has going for it. We have the greatest farmers we can ever hope to assemble, farmers who produce so efficiently and so well that New Jersey remains consistently in the top-10 states for an array of agricultural products despite being one of the smallest states in the nation."
He continued, "Our geographic location, which we know won't change, remains in the middle of everything, thanks to positioning between Washington, New York and Philadelphia, as well as proximity to ports that ship around the world."
The agricultural industry "continues to address basic human needs," declared Fisher. "With all the changes that technology brings, our industry addresses the human condition. People may decide to abandon the horse-and-buggy for the automobile, or the automobile for the flying car, but they will always need to eat, always want to be part of an aesthetically pleasing environment. But getting information about how to achieve those goals isn't neat anymore. Much information [that] people get isn't all that great. In fact, it may be disinformation."
It is at those times, said the secretary, "when questions are asked that may be based on faulty information, that I urge you to exercise the most patience — to resist the urge to get defensive about your farming practices. I understand how difficult it can be, when you're faced with the pressures of all the details you must address in growing what you grow, raising what you raise, to also keep one eye on the bigger picture. But I urge you to do so."
He concluded, "Authenticity is the key. My point is that we must just keep pushing, knowing none of us can truly predict the future. Change will happen, and all we can really count on is the rock-solid values of you being who you are. That will transcend everything."
Coborn’s Inc., a St. Cloud, MN-based retailer with 54 stores, has hired Tom Williams as director of produce and floral merchandising, reporting to Emily Coborn, vice president of fresh merchandising. Williams most recently served as manager of corporate retail produce and floral at SpartanNash Co.
Prior to his role at SpartanNash, Williams spent 35 years in leadership positions with Supervalu northern region, Cub Foods Corporate, H. Brooks & Co., Upper Lakes Foods and Brookshire Grocery Co.
As director of produce and floral, Williams will develop and lead the implementation of produce and floral merchandising strategies for the company’s various retail divisions, including Coborn’s, Cash Wise, Marketplace Foods and CobornsDelivers. He will be responsible for achieving desired sales and gross profit results, and maximizing produce and floral distribution.
Williams will also be accountable for aggressively leading innovation in the produce and floral departments to create a shopping experience that reflects each retail divisions’ unique brand promises, while consistently reflecting the company’s overall vision of inspiring happiness, healthy living and simplicity for each of its guests.
The company said Williams will be responsible for building and maintaining strong relationships with vendors and suppliers. In this role, he will provide direct supervision to the produce and floral retail supervisors and indirect supervision to department managers.
He holds a bachelor's degree in management from the College of St. Scholastica and currently serves on the retail and foodservice board of directors for United Fresh and is an appointee for the USDA fruit and vegetable advisory committee.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has filed administrative actions under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act against M&M Produce Inc. and Arrow Farms of New York Inc.
M&M Produce, operating from Connecticut, allegedly failed to make full payment to 46 produce sellers in the amount of $2.87 million from May 2014 through March 2015.
Arrow Farms, operating in New York, allegedly failed to make payment promptly to six produce sellers in the amount of $266,876 from September 2014 through May 2015.
Both M&M and Arrow Farms will have the opportunity to request a hearing. Should USDA find that the companies committed repeated and flagrant violations, they would be barred from the produce industry for two years. Furthermore, its principals could not be employed by or affiliated with any PACA licensee for one year and then only with the posting of a USDA-approved surety bond.
In the past three years, the USDA resolved approximately 3,700 PACA claims involving more than $66 million. Its experts also assisted more than 7,100 callers with issues valued at approximately $100 million.
In an unprecedented move during Fruit Logistica in Berlin, Germany, the world’s top avocado-producing countries have united to create the first global avocado entity, the World Avocado Organization. The primary purpose of the new organization is to promote the consumption of avocados in the European Union, Asia and other parts of the world through collectively self-funded marketing programs.
WAO is a U.S.-based non-profit global entity that is the first of its kind. The organization is composed of a board of directors representing the interests of its members, who are producers, exporters and importers from around the world. The founding member countries are Brazil, Mexico, Peru, South Africa and the United States.
“The World Avocado Organization represents the creation of a major international agricultural body that has been years in the making and is to date the only multinational global marketing organization of its kind,” James Bosworth of ProHass, the director for Peru and chairman of the WAO, said in a press release.
“The world is getting smaller and this commodity has achieved a global reach as people everywhere embrace the superfood nutritional benefits and taste of avocados,” Zac Bard of Westfalia, South African director and vice chairman of WAO, added in the press release.
The idea for a global umbrella organization for the promotion of avocados dates back several years. After nearly eight years of discussions, the idea came to fruition when the founding country members of the WAO agreed to move forward during the eighth World Avocado Congress in Lima, Peru, in September.
The organization’s name is a nod to the importance of the World Avocado Congress, which has been held in every major avocado-producing country in the world since it first convened in South Africa in 1987. The charter members wanted to give the organization a name that would be representative and inclusive of all of the founding and future members from around the globe.
The overall purpose of the organization is to promote the consumption of avocados in the second-largest consuming market for avocados in the world, the European Union, as well as emerging consumer markets in Asia, such as China and Japan, and other areas of the world.
The WAO plans to launch its first collectively funded marketing programs later this year in several European markets, including Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and select Scandinavian countries.
The European Union is the second-largest market for imported avocados in the world after the United States. In 2015, the European Union consumed approximately 800 million pounds of avocados, and in 2016 consumption is expected to increase by 10 percent.
In addition to Bosworth and Bard, the WAO officers include Ignacio Gonzalez of Avo-Select, the director from Mexico, who is secretary; and Jim Donovan of Mission Produce, the director from the United States, who is treasurer.
Key Food Stores Co-Operative Inc., a supermarket co-operative with 217 stores that are primarily member-owned, has acquired the “SuperFresh” banner name and related intellectual property assets from the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.
Key Food is planning to open several stores under the SuperFresh banner in the near future, the first of which may be as early as this month.
Over the last five years, Key Food has been one of the fastest-growing retailers in the Northeast. It most recently purchased 24 stores from A&P, adding approximately $400 million in annual retail sales and bringing total annual retail sales to $2.3 billion.
“Key Food is pleased to acquire the SuperFresh banner and have the opportunity to offer shoppers even more grocery options through some of our larger format stores under the SuperFresh name,” Dean Janeway, chief executive officer of Key Food, said in a press release. “We proudly welcome SuperFresh into our supermarket family.”
Key Food plans to “better” the SuperFresh banner and build on its strengths. This banner will be primarily used for larger-format stores in suburban areas, where Key Food plans to rebrand certain existing stores that fit this model, as well as with new store acquisitions.