San Luis Valley preps for 2015-16 potato season

Monte Vista, CO — With an ongoing drought a major factor in the San Luis Valley's potato industry, planting this coming season could be down between 8 and 10 percent from last year's 55,000 acres.

Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee based on Monte Vista, told The Produce News in mid-April he had “no way of knowing” going into planting, but he said given circumstances he looks for it to be down.cpac-Farm machinery from a bygone era reminds residents and visitors alike of the importance potatoes have in the San Luis Valley's history and economy. Shown are CPAC Assistant Director Linda Weyers, Executive Director Jim Ehrlich and Marketing Administrative Assistant Racheal Werner.

“It could be between 50,000 and 52,000 acres, but right now we just don't know,” Ehrlich said. Acreage in 2014 was bumped up from the previous year's 49,700 acres, and Colorado's largest potato production area saw an overall better growing season. Summer hail hit just under 4,000 acres, but nonetheless shipments year-to-date for March 2015 were up from the previous year.

Total shipments to date for the current season were recorded at 19,980, up from 19,124 in 2014. That number remains down from previous years: 2011 saw shipments hitting 23,511 year to date in March; 2012 logged 22,754; and 2013 came in at 21,069.

“Water supplies this year could fall to between one-half and two-thirds of normal,” Ehrlich said. “There's no reason to think this drought is going to end anytime soon.”

Ehrlich said growers would be planting as usual in late April and into May, and he noted an increase in demand for yellow spuds. The March Spud Facts from CPAC confirmed the demand, showing yellows to make up just under 16 percent of the 2014-15 crop. In 2014 yellows were slightly over 12 percent, and in the three previous years they were in single-digit percentages.

Reds had slipped a little in 2014-15, down to 5.8 percent from 6.9 percent in 2013-14.

Ehrlich said as demand trends change, research continues on varieties that provide not only good taste and storability but also resistance to blight and disease.

“Right now there's a new russet called the Fortress that is PVY-resistant,” he said, adding, “Growers are showing interest.”

There is also research being conducted on other projects, including a proposal to replace San Luis Valley plum trees with shade trees.

The plum trees, Ehrlich said, harbor the green peach aphid, which attacks potatoes as well as the tree fruit.

“We're looking at replacing those trees, but we're also working on an overall aphid control study,” he said.

While production in the San Luis Valley continues at a steady pace, CPAC also continues to work behind the scenes on administrative fronts. Ehrlich said trade with Mexico remains a big focus, and he said, “In mid-March there was the ANTAD show in Guadalajara, and we had Roger Christensen of Maverick, Jere Metz of Farm Fresh, Angelia Diera of Skyline and Ryan Haynie of RPE attend for CPAC. There was a Colorado Pavilion at the show, and there is a lot of interest in getting U.S. potatoes to Mexico.”

Ehrlich said that eight lawsuits have been filed in Mexican courts by growers in that country that block importing U.S. potatoes farther into the country than the 26-kilometer buffer zone. In May 2014 restrictions effected several years ago limiting shipments from going into Mexico's interior were lifted, providing Colorado potatoes a significant market and answering demand for the spuds. The policy was short-lived, however, with the 26-kilometer buffer reinstated in June 2014.

The judges' decisions will determine if U.S. potatoes will go farther into Mexico.

“We should know in the next year whether or not the 26-kilometer access is valid,” he said. “In theory the judges could allow us to continue to ship into the country. Most likely they will not.”

CPAC also attended Colorado's Ag Day at the state's capital in Denver in March, and Ehrlich said he will attend an upcoming meeting in Washington, DC, to discuss issues and strategies common to state managers from across the nation.

Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools hits milestone

Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools announced that salad bars have been donated to more than 1,000 California schools. The salad bars benefit more than 700,000 students every day by increasing their access to fresh fruits and vegetables at school lunch. The Golden State leads the nation with the most salad bars in schools.  

The announcement was made at an education and agriculture forum in Salinas, CA, with Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction for the California Department of Education, a champion of school salad bars. Three years ago, Torlakson challenged LMSB2S to reach the goal of 1,000 California schools. That goal has now been surpassed — 1,018 schools from all over the state receiving salad bars.     

“On behalf of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign, I’m thrilled to announce today that salad bars have now been donated to more than 1,000 California schools," Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin, vice president community development for Taylor Farms Inc. and a co-chair of United Fresh Produce Association’s 2013 Let’s Move Salad Bars to California Schools campaign, said in a press release. "The salad bars benefit more than 700,000 California students every day by increasing their access to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, many grown right here in the Salinas Valley.

"Thank you for your leadership," she said. "And, thank you to my colleagues in the produce and grocery industry, and to California health and business foundations for their generous contributions to reach this important milestone for our kids.”    

Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association, added, “At a time when most children still eat less than half of the daily amount of fruits and vegetables recommended for good health, school salad bars are a powerful tool to increase student’s fruit and vegetable consumption. Salad bars are also one of the easiest ways for schools to meet the new school lunch standards, which require serving a greater variety and amount of fruits and vegetables every day. We very much appreciate our partnership with Superintendent Torlakson and his staff at the California Department of Education. Nationwide, more than 4,000 schools have received salad bars from Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools.”

The goal of Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools is to increase student’s fruit and vegetable consumption by donating salad bars to schools. The campaign supports First lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to improve children’s health and end childhood obesity. LMSB2S was founded by the Chef Ann Foundation, United Fresh Start Foundation, Whole Kids Foundation and the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance. For more information about how schools can apply for a salad bar, visit www.saladbars2schools.org.

Del Monte expands global environmental sustainability programs

Del Monte Fresh Produce announced that the its banana operations in Costa Rica (33 farms and 41 packinghouses, totaling 26,324 acres) achieved carbon neutrality certification by SCS earlier this year. The company also celebrated Earth Day by stating its continued commitment to conservation through its reforestation and conservation programs in all its farming operations worldwide.SCS-Bananas-Costa-Rica

The carbon neutrality certification obtained covers the entire custody chain from Del Monte banana farms up to the loading port in Costa Rica. Greenhouse gas emission audits were conducted by SCS Global Services and were based on the following four, widely accepted, standards:

  • World Resources Institute’s Greenhouse Gas Protocol: A Corporate Accounting & Reporting Standard (Revised Edition)
  • Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting & Reporting Standard: Supplement to the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting & Reporting Standard
  • Draft Costa Rican Standard 2013 “Metodología para la Cuantificación y Verificación de Remociones Forestales — Borrador”
  • SCS’ Carbon Neutrality Requirements (a proprietary standard by SCS Global Services), June 2014

“We are very excited that our banana operations in Costa Rica achieved carbon neutrality status and were certified under these very stringent standards," Hans Sauter, vice president corporate research and development and agricultural services of Del Monte, said in a press release. "With these satisfying results, we are now looking into replicating this experience in other operations. This certification validates the effectiveness of our environmental sustainability efforts and it comes on the heels of our recent Sustainably Grown certification by SCS of our banana and pineapple operations both in Costa Rica and Guatemala.”

As part of the company’s commitment to offset its carbon emissions, Del Monte Fresh Produce continues to invest significant resources in maintaining nature reserves as well as planting trees in its operations worldwide.  It is estimated that by the end of 2015, a total of 18,725 acres will be under protected status or reforested. This is in addition to the thousands of trees, many of them local species, which are donated every year to the schools and employees in communities where Del Monte Fresh Produce operates.

Raisins to get their day in court

Tomorrow, April 22, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case pitting two California raisin growers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal marketing order regulating raisins.

At issue is a provision of the California Raisin Marketing Order that allows the administrative committee of that order to take a percentage of raisins off the market each year.

The marketing order was established in 1949 when there were too many raisins being produced to be marketed economically. For years, a certain percentage of raisins was diverted from the domestic market and funneled into the export market or given away as part of school lunch programs. The committee, under power granted by the USDA and the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act, established the percentage of raisins to be diverted and demanded that each handler send those raisins to a designated warehouse.

In 2001, raisin growers Marvin and Laura Horne established the Raisin Valley Marketing Association, which is a coalition of 61 raisin growers in Fresno and Madera counties. They declared that as producers, rather than handlers, they were not subject to the set-aside program and refused to participate. They were fined and thus began a litigation history that will conclude with tomorrow’s Supreme Court hearing.

Over the years, the case has been heard in several venues.  The current Supreme Court case revolves around the Hornes’ contention that its personal property has been removed in violation of the 5th Amendment’s “Takings Clause,” which declares that “private property” shall not “be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Lower courts have ruled in several different ways, including ruling that the AMMA is constitutional and that the courts are not the correct path by which to change the provision.  

In June of 2013, the Supreme Court did send the case back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal for a ruling with Justice Elena Kagan noting that that court should determine if the law was unconstitutional or just extremely outdated.   

The Ninth Circuit ultimately ruled that the “Takings Clause” does not apply to raisins, and even if it did, the government’s action of withholding raisins from the market was consistent with the AMMA’s intent and created just compensation for the raisins by raising the market price on the raisins that were allowed to be sold.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear this case earlier this year.  As is the custom, arguments will be presented tomorrow by both sides, with each side given 30 minutes for arguments and questions from the Justices. Typically, the Supreme Court will issue its ruling several months after the hearing.

In a closely related issue, earlier this month Sun Maid Raisins of California, the industry’s largest marketer of raisins, filed a complaint against the USDA and the set-aside provision in the Raisin Marketing Order. Though that provision has not been used for several years, Sun Maid said it petitioned the USDA to revoke the provision in November of 2014. The petition was denied.

In its recent complaint, Sun Maid argues that the very existence of the marketing order, and the potential for volume restrictions, “impedes growth, investment and reinvestment by raisin producers, even if such restrictions are not imposed."

Ready Pac introduces hemp to salad kit, Bistro Bowl

Ready Pac Foods' newest products, which feature hemp as a key ingredient, hit Safeway's store shelves April 20. The company said its Hemp Caesar Salad Kit and Bistro Bowl Jamaican Style Jerk Hemp Seed Salad are the first mass-produced, ready-to-eat salad products to feature hemp.readypachemp

The Ready Pac Hemp Caesar Salad Kit is a chopped kit that features hemp seeds, chopped Romaine, shredded carrots, shredded red cabbage, Caesar herb vinaigrette dressing and herb-seasoned croutons. The company also introduced its Bistro Bowl Jamaican Style Jerk Hemp Seed Salad, which includes hemp seeds, chopped Romaine lettuce, shredded carrots, red cabbage, diced chicken, black beans, red rice and a Jamaican jerk with hemp dressing.

The new Ready Pac salads combine nutrient-rich hemp seeds, which are filled with amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids that pack as much power as other proteins, with lush, leafy greens and other vegetables. Minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc and potassium, and soluble and insoluble fibers also add to the wealth of nutritional benefits of hemp seeds.

The Hemp Caesar Salad Kit, available in a 10-ounce salad kit, is a chopped Caesar salad kit; chopped salad kits among the fastest-growing and favored salad products among consumers.

"Ready Pac is a trusted brand that works to provide healthy choices in an innovative way," Tony Sarsam, chief executive officer of Ready Pac Foods, said in a press release. "Our on-the-go, health-conscious consumers are open to, and regularly seek, alternatives to typical nutrition offerings. Our Hemp Caesar Salad and Bistro Bowl Jamaican Style Jerk Hemp Seed Salad provide more options for all customers and empower them to make healthier choices for themselves and their families."