The Southeast Produce Council will open registration on May 23 to its 2017 fall conference, which will feature a whole new look and platform with the addition of a full trade show and a focus on two key industry areas: organics and foodservice.Southern-Innovations-Final-Logo

Formerly known as the Southern Innovations Symposium, the annual event is now the Southern Innovations Organics & Foodservice Expo. It will offer attendees the intimate networking experience that Southern Exposure (the council's annual winter conference and expo) is known for, but will focus more closely on new products and services, as well as education, in the areas of organics and foodservice.

The event will take place Sept. 28-30 at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort on Hilton Head Island, SC.

The council is still in the process of firming up some of the details of the conference, such as speakers and panelists, but most of the schedule has been set.

The conference will kick off Thursday, Sept. 28, with a Farm to Table Welcome Reception, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

A full schedule is planned for Friday, Sept. 29. The general session and keynote breakfast will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Two workshops will follow. The first, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., will focus on the relevance of foodservice to the produce industry; the second, from 11 a.m. to noon, will focus on the role of organics in the produce industry. The expo will take place from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., and the President's Dinner Dance will take place from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

On Saturday, Sept. 30, attendees can choose from three different events: inshore fishing, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.; the Founders Memorial Golf Tournament (which honors all the founders of the council, including the two who have died, Ken Lanhardt and Terry Vorhees); or a local tour and lunch, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The conference will conclude, as usual, with the Ultimate Tailgate Experience, from 3:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

During the general session and keynote breakfast, a new award will be presented to honor a rising star (i.e., a person under the age of 35) in the Southeast produce industry.

The venue at this enhanced event can accommodate approximately 85 exhibitors, and the council is hoping, perhaps even expecting, to sell all of those spaces, SEPC Executive Director David Sherrod told The Produce News April 19. Those exhibitors should be a "cross section of companies from the U.S., Canada and Mexico," he said, and hopefully will include "a good number of exhibitors from the Southeast."

About 330 people attended last year's fall conference, but "with the new format, we're anticipating to greatly increase the attendance, maybe even to double it," said Sherrod.

All events will take place at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort, with the exception of the expo, which will take place at the Hilton Head Island Beach & Tennis Resort's conference center, which is about a mile from the Westin.

For more information, or to register for the Southern Innovations Organics & Foodservice Expo, contact the SEPC's Anna Burch by phone (478/982-4411) or email (

AUSTIN, TX -- The Viva Fresh Expo was an ideal venue for the April 21 workshop, "The impact and future of NAFTA."

Panelists from Mexico, Canada and the United States all presented overwhelmingly positive economic trade data to indicate that the North American Free Trade Agreement, put in place in 1994, has been extremely beneficial to this continent's agricultural trade.

A question at the end of the panelists' consistent message suggested that, because of its unique value to society, shouldn't food trade be excluded from dramatic change in a renegotiated North American trade agreement?NAFTA-panelListening to NAFTA panelist Luis Martinez of SAGARPA are Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Luis Ribera, associate professor and extension economist for Texas A&M University, and panel moderator Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh Produce Association.

Panel moderator Robert Guenther replied, "That is our biggest fear." He said that fresh produce may become a pawn in negotiations, "which have nothing to do with the produce business." 

Part of the produce battle, however, may come from within the family.

The panelist representing the United States was Luis Ribera, associate professor and extension economist for Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. In a follow-up telephone conversation with The Produce News April 24, Ribera noted that there are several sectors within the U.S. produce industry, including some Texans and Floridians, who would not favor continued open fruit and vegetable trade with Mexico.

Presenting Canada's point of view was panelist Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, based in Ottawa. From Mexico was Luis Martinez of SAGARPA, the Mexican department of agriculture, who works in Washington, DC.

Martinez presented a SAGARPA chart showing that total agricultural trade between the United States and Mexico shot up 521 percent between 1993 and 2016. In U.S. dollars, total trade rose to $42.8 billion in 2016 from $6.9 billion in 1993. In 1993, Mexican agricultural exports to the United States amounted to $3.2 billion, while U.S. ag exports were $3.7 billion.

In 2016, Mexico exported $24.9 billion to the United States, while Mexico received U.S. ag products worth $17.9 billion.

Lemaire also provided solid information showing that Canadian and U.S. agricultural interests have both benefited from NAFTA.  

Martinez noted that Mexico's exporters of agricultural products are aggressively working to develop offshore markets to be less dependent on the United States.

Mike Withers, Jewel Osco division president, has been appointed executive vice president of retail operations for Albertsons Cos. Withers will lead the company’s east region operations, while Susan Morris, current executive vice president of retail operations, will lead the west region. Jim Perkins, executive vice president of retail operations special projects, is focused on targeted initiatives to accelerate growth. All three executives will continue to report to Wayne Denningham, president and chief operating officer.MikeWithers-150x150

“Mike is an exceptional leader who understands our business and market areas from coast to coast,” Denningham said in a press release. “Throughout his career, Mike has worked closely with many members of our current leadership team, and his management experience and operations expertise will help all of our divisions run really great stores.”

Withers began his career with Albertsons in 1976 in Boise, ID. Like many of the company’s executives, he started as a courtesy clerk and gradually worked his way up until he was running his own store. He served as district manager in both Washington and Florida and was eventually promoted to Big Sky division president with responsibilities for store operations in Montana and North Dakota, a role he also held in both the Florida and Portland divisions.

Since 2006, Withers has served as vice president of marketing and merchandising for the Florida and Southern divisions, and president of the Southern and Jewel Osco divisions. Withers will work out of the company’s Boise corporate campus.

A week or so from the start of Sonora’s table grape season, both Hermosillo and Caborca crops are heading up to a good season, with an estimated volume of 19 million cartons.   

Generally, the Mexican table grape season starts the first week of May and lasts all the way through the first or second week of July, with varieties like Red Globe; however, the vast majority of the total volume comes down by the end of June.MAS-Table-Grapes

“Sonora’s table grape production is extremely important for the fresh produce industry as it happens right between the end of the South American season, mainly from Chile and Peru, countries with the highest exports to the United States, and the beginning of the California season, mostly from the San Joaquin Valley,” Miky Suarez, president of MAS Melons & Grapes, said in a press release. “I think Sonora along with the Coachella Valley in California are considered as the beginning of the spring, since after a long winter season, it is time for the industry to get ready for a new beginning.”

The Hermosillo and Caborca regions are located in strategic agricultural areas in Mexico where fertile soil and ideal temperatures make them some of the world’s best-tasting fruits and vegetables.

Third-generation MAS Melons & Grapes grower partners use the most technologically advanced farming and post-harvest methods to provide customers with premium quality.  

The varieties MAS Melons & Grapes markets are Perlette, Flame, Sugraone, Black Seedless and Red Globe, and this season the company has started to evaluate the agronomic performance of new green and red varieties aimed at being commercially available for the 2018 season.

“Currently, few premium varieties from the SNFL Group in Spain are being tested in the field, and our company has already allocated some acreage to commercially produce them next season,” Suarez said in the release.

According to MAS Melons & Grapes, this year the quality of the fruit is looking very promising as it shows a good uniformity of the bunch structure and berry size, and, if appropriate conditions remain, the season outcome should be outstanding.

“Although our table grapes are both GlobalGAP and SCS Global Systems certified, our commitment with the safety of our fruits and vegetables goes far beyond any standard third-party certification audit; everyone at MAS Melons & Grapes is accountable for delivering nothing but the safest products to our customers,” Suarez said in the release.

“In addition to the United States and Canada, which are our main markets, this year our company is planning to export to New Zealand, Japan, and if quality and volume conditions remain as expected, to the south of Asia, like Malaysia and Singapore, and at a lower proportion, to England and Panama,” Suarez added.

The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to be the next secretary of agriculture. He was confirmed Monday, April 24 by a vote of 87 to 11.

As head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Perdue will oversee roughly 100,000 employees and administer a budget of approximately $140 billion spread across multiple programs. He will also be charged with formulating the 2018 farm bill.sonny-perdueSonny Perdue

Perdue served as a state senator in Georgia before being elected governor in 2003 — the first republican governor in 130 years. As governor of Georgia, Perdue enacted strict food-safety regulations after a deadly salmonella outbreak was traced to peanut butter from Georgia.

“United Fresh congratulates Secretary Perdue on his confirmation today by the full Senate. USDA has been without a leader for far too long, and this confirmation will allow forward progress on issues impacting our industry,” Robert Guenther, United Fresh’s senior vice president for public policy, said in a statement. “Secretary Perdue will play a critical role working on issues important to the fresh fruit and vegetable industry including the 2018 Farm Bill debate, immigration reform, research, trade and nutrition. As governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue was a great friend to the fresh fruit and vegetable industry and we look forward to working with him once again to ensure all Americans have access to healthy, nutritious foods.”

“I’ve known and worked with Sonny Perdue for many years and I know what a dedicated public servant he is,” United Fresh Board member Bill Brim of Lewis Taylor Farms of Tipton, GA, said in the statement. “I also know that he really understands and appreciates the value of the fresh produce industry to this country. I’m confident that he’ll do everything he can to work with United Fresh and all of our industry to help us meet the many challenges and opportunities we have before us; his confirmation as secretary of agriculture is a great development for the entire fresh fruit and vegetable production chain.”