New record for table grape crop

Setting a new record for crop value at $1.76 billion, California’s table grape growers harvested their second-largest crop ever, sending 110 million 19-pound boxes of grapes to consumers worldwide.

Export volume and value were also the second highest in history, with 44.5 million 19-pound boxes shipped at a value of $857 million. The top volume export markets included Canada at 11.4 million 19-pound boxes, followed by Mexico at 5.7 million and China/Hong Kong at 5.5 million. Just over 40 percent of the total crop volume was exported.

“Overall, 2014 was a good year for most growers,” Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, said in a press release. “The industry was able to successfully harvest and ship a large crop at good prices over a very long season.”

According to Nave, the 2015 season is expected to mirror 2014 in timing, beginning late April and running through January. With the season only a month away, the commission is gearing up its global campaign. “The commission campaign focuses on motivating the trade to promote, and consumers to buy, more grapes from California more often,” said Nave.

United Fresh supports national solution to GMO labeling debate

WASHINGTON — The food industry is throwing its support behind a bill introduced last week that would create a uniform, certification program for labeling foods free of genetically modified ingredients, bypassing state initiatives that would mandate labeling on all GMO foods.

Facing staunch consumer group opposition, however, it’s uncertain how far the bill will go.

The legislation, introduced by Reps. Mike Pompeo, (R-KS), and G.K. Butterfield, (D-NC), would make the Food & Drug Administration the sole authority over GMO labeling and create a voluntary certification program similar to the USDA organic label, while preempting states from enacting mandatory labeling requirements. Mandatory state labeling laws are misleading because genetically modified foods are safe, the bill’s advocates argue.

The bill comes just days after FDA announced that genetically modified Arctic apples are safe for consumption, along with six varieties of Innate potatoes genetically engineered to lower the potential for acrylamide and black spot bruising.

"Any labeling standard — whether for labeling of GMO foods or non-GMO labeling — must be a national framework, not a state-by-state hodgepodge,” the United Fresh Produce Association said in a statement. “We encourage Congress to take steps to ensure that federal standards prevail in food labeling, and that FDA determine what labeling is necessary in accordance with its food safety responsibility.”

The produce industry is not alone in calling for a federal solution. Other sectors of the food industry say the state and local labeling laws will force companies to build multiple supply streams, design new labels, acquire new warehouse space and even create new transportation routes. Food companies estimate up to 80 percent of the foods in the United States contain ingredients that have been genetically modified.

“A voluntary program, administered by FDA, to evaluate food labels that claim the presence, or absence, of genetically-enhanced ingredients will bolster consumer confidence, while giving frozen food and beverage makers the certainty they need to meet the needs of America’s consumers,” said Kraig Naasz, chief executive officer of the American Frozen Food Institute.

While the food industry has spent millions of dollars fighting mandatory labeling legislation in more than two dozen states, consumer groups have poured on the pressure, too, and vow to continue fighting the Pompeo bill.

Some retailers have jumped into the fray. Whole Foods has announced it will require labeling of all genetically modified products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores by 2018.

National Mango Board’s referendum right around the corner

The United States Department of Agriculture is required to administer a continuation referendum for the National Mango Board every five years. This referendum will be held April 6-17.nmblogo Importers and first handlers who handled at least 500,000 pounds of mangos during the 2014 calendar year are eligible to vote, and all those eligible will be receiving a ballot directly from USDA.

The NMB is a national promotion and research organization, supported by assessments from domestic and imported mangos. The board’s mission is to increase consumption of fresh mangos in the United States through innovative research and promotional activities, while fostering a thriving industry.

The NMB uses a strategic plan, developed by the board members, to ensure the best interests of the mango industry are being served and the funds are being invested wisely. The strategic plan is supported through three core programs: marketing, research and industry relations.

The NMB’s 2015-17 strategic plan is as follows:

  • Direct to consumer marketing to increase mango consumption and awareness
  • Increase presence and sell-through of mangos at retail
  • Increase presence and sell-through of mangos at foodservice
  • Generate knowledge through research efforts in support of the vision
  • Enhance industry communication and preparedness to create a unified industry

More information about the National Mango Board is available at www.mango.org/vote.

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.