November 4, 2010

In Today's Issue:

Inside United Fresh Special Report – The Shape of the New Congress

United Fresh Chairman Steffanie Smith, right, talks with Senator Patty Murray of Washington during the 2010 Washington Public Policy Conference. At press time, Sen. Murray holds a slight lead over Republican challenger Dino Rossi in the race for the Senate seat from Washington.

Robert Guenther, Senior Vice President, Public Policy, takes a look at the new Congress and how it may affect produce industry issues in the next two years.

As someone who spends most of his waking hours speaking to elected officials on behalf of the produce industry, I have only one piece of advice: expect the unexpected. That is what you saw on Tuesday as Americans across the country made sweeping changes to the country's political landscape here in Washington, DC. For a mid-term election, we have not seen such a buildup in many, many years. Most of this upsurge was driven by anxiety from a weak economy and job loss permeating across the country. In addition, many voters, especially those who classify themselves as independents, felt the president's legislative agenda went too far, too fast and grew government too much at a time when American household budgets were shrinking and more were losing their jobs. In the end, four major policies defined this government expansion that remain widely unpopular, specifically the $787 billion stimulus package, continued bailouts for the automotive and financial services industry, climate change and President Obama's healthcare overhaul. All this equated into an unfriendly night for the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

Below is more in-depth analysis about the elections and impact on our industry, but let's look at a few of the facts that came out last night.

  • As of press time, Republicans gained at least 60 seats in the House - at least 8 more than the 52 gained during the "Republican Revolution" of 1994 and the most of either party since 1948
  • Republicans will gain a minimum of 6 seats in the Senate depending on the outcome in Washington that, at this point, is too close to call. 
  • Over half of the House Agriculture Committee Democrats (15) lost their elections last night.
  • For conservative members of the Democratic caucus known as the Blue Dog Coalition, twenty-three Blue Dogs won reelection, twenty-two lost, and the results of three have yet to be finalized.
  • Over 35 House members who cosponsored the Specialty Crop Farm Bill in 2007 either lost or are retiring after this year.

Congress

All 435 members of the House of Representatives were up for reelection and most analysts were in agreement that the best chance the Republicans had to gain control of a chamber was in the House. The breakdown of the House from 2008–2010 was 257 Democrats and 178 Republicans. On Tuesday, Democrats were left with 187 members in their caucus and with Republicans retaking the majority with 239 members. At press time, 10 races were undecided.

In the Senate, 37 seats in were contested, with Democrats holding 19 of those seats and Republicans holding 18. To secure a majority, Republicans needed to gain 10 seats. On Tuesday, the Republicans had a net gain of 6 seats with the Washington state Senate seat still undecided.  

Looking nationally, a number of prominent Democratic members lost their seats; While Republicans were able to make gains in many regions of the country including the Midwest. With Republicans taking control of the House, President Obama's legislative agenda is effectively dead. But the administration will still have the ability, through regulatory action, to set or change policy. 

In many ways, this new Congress will look very, very different.  When the gavel goes down opening the 112th Congress on Monday, January 3, nearly 80 new members will take the oath of office, marking the largest freshman class in Congress since 1992. This means that in many respects the learning curve will be high both for these new members and for each group with interests represented in Washington, with a renewed focus on meeting these new members, learning about their districts and listening closely for what motivates their public policy decisions. 

Further, consider that of these new members, two thirds have legislative experience and the average age of this new class will be 45, comparatively younger than the current average age of 56 in the House. This freshmen Republican class will include more women and minorities from states where the GOP was the weakest over the last two election cycles, including Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Arizona.   

Produce Industry Outlook

For the produce industry, it was a mixed bag as a good number of members in both the House and Senate who have traditionally supported industry efforts, seem to have fared well. However, several stalwart members who have long been allies lost their races. During the last two years, a number of our initiatives have moved through Congress and we do not see that changing during the 112th Congress. Agriculture in general is fairly non-partisan, and fruit and vegetable issues specifically have very little to do with party preferences.  While rural members of Congress from produce growing regions are certainly our friends, the most liberal, urban members of Congress also strongly support increased fruit and vegetable consumption to meet the dire health needs of their constituents. 

Most importantly, with any new Congress, our industry needs to continue building strong relationships that will help us enact policy initiatives that promote our ability to deliver the most nutritious and abundant food supply to the American consumer. These initiatives must help ensure a fair and level playing field for all businesses in which growth and success are limited only by a company's innovation, creativity and hard work.

As your advocate here in Washington, United Fresh looks forward to working with the new Congress as we focus on key issues that impact our industry including food safety, immigration reform, nutrition, federal agricultural policy, international trade and tax reform policy. Day in and day out, we pride ourselves in the ability to work for you in a bipartisan manner on an unwavering produce industry public policy agenda, no matter which party the candidates represent. I believe this is one of the most important strengths we bring to our association's membership. So, as we advance our industry's issues in the 112th Congress, we look forward to working with all the candidates, both novice and veteran, Republican, Democratic and Independent.


On Election Night, Hundreds Tune in to Fresh Decision 2010

From left, United's Robert Guenther, Julie Manes, Andrew Marshall and Ray Gilmer in the Fresh Decision “war room” on Tuesday night.
As Americans headed to the polls on Election Day, the conference room at United's Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters was transformed into an election war room Tuesday night for United’s Fresh Decision 2010. More than 350 industry members logged on to the United Fresh blog to see the United's Government Relations Team of Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther and Government Relations Director Julie Manes explore multiple key races and how each will affect the produce industry during the upcoming Congress.

Guenther and Manes provided updates and analysis on approximately a dozen key House and Senate races throughout the night. Joining United's Washington team was United Fresh President Tom Stenzel and Vice President of Membership Jeff Oberman from United’s Election Night Reception in Salinas, CA.

"The Fresh Decision 2010 blog is another innovation from United to keep our members informed and engaged on public policy and its impact on the produce industry," said Patrick Delaney, United's Communications Manager.

A full recap of the commentary can be found at www.unitedfresh.org/blog/election-2010.


United Talks with Produce Market Managers During Wholesale & Regional Food Hub Conference

Betty Allison of the Maryland Food Center Authority and Michael Janis of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market inspect the new Philadelphia Regional Produce Market, set to open this winter.
The role that produce terminal markets play in the distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables within regional food systems was a key focus in Philadelphia this week as United Fresh Senior Director of Membership Miriam Miller joined retail and wholesale produce market managers from around the country for the National Association of Produce Market Manager' (NAPMM) two-day conference focused on regional food hubs.

Representatives from USDA, the Wallace Center and the Project for Public Spaces met with attendees on Wednesday afternoon for an open discussion of the role that markets currently play in local and regional food distribution, additional opportunities for collaboration and partnership to provide more services to the community, as well as more opportunities for produce companies. 

"United's Wholesaler-Distributor Board met with USDA representatives in September at the Washington Public Policy Conference to discuss these important issues," said Miller.  "We look forward to continuing this dialogue with USDA, as well as exploring opportunities for our wholesaler and distributor members to play an integral role in regional food hubs around the country."

"Wholesalers and distributors have the existing infrastructure to support a regional food system concept," said Ben Vitale, president of NAPMM and executive director of the Central New York Regional Market Authority. "NAPMM looks forward to continue our work together with United Fresh to promote the role our members can play in these initiatives."

"This conference is a valuable opportunity to work directly with representatives from USDA and the Wallace Center to share what wholesalers and distributors are currently doing for regional food supply chains," said Michael Janis, manager of the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market. "NAPMM and United will continue to work together to make sure our members will benefit from these discussions."

On Tuesday, Miller also joined attendees for a tour of the new Philadelphia Regional Produce Market, slated to open this winter.  The updated, fully-enclosed market will have over 700,000 square feet of merchant display units, cooling facilities and loading areas.

For more information on the activities of the United Fresh Wholesaler-Distributor Board, please contact Miller at 202-303-3400, ext. 410.


Technical Working Group Completes Post-Harvest Standard

Members of the Technical Working Group with the Ronald McDonald statue during a 2009 meeting at McDonald's Headquarters in Oak Brook, IL.

In a meeting hosted by Costco Wholesale at its Issaquah, WA, headquarters, more than 40 members of the Technical Working Group of the GAPs Harmonization Initiative met for one more drafting meeting to complete the Post-harvest Operations standard. United Fresh Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology Dr. David Gombas congratulated the TWG on its completion of the Post-Harvest Operations Standard.

"The TWG deserves a hearty congratulations for completing both the Field Operations and Harvesting and the Post-Harvest Operations Harmonized Audit Standards within the one year timeframe set by the Initiative's Steering Committee," said Gombas.

Both standards are now available for review and comment on the United Fresh website here.

While this was the last scheduled meeting of the TWG, the group's job is hardly finished.

"The next step is to pilot the standards," said Suresh DeCosta, manager of quality systems at McDonalds USA and chair of the TWG. "The Field Operations and Harvesting standard has been piloted once at an apple growing operation, with great feedback from the grower, the auditor and the grower's customer. We're now scheduling several more pilots, of both standards and with other commodities, size operations, auditors and customers, and then the TWG will reconvene to consider all the feedback and adjust the standards to make them better."

For more information on the TWG or on the Initiative, please contact United's Erin Grether at 202-303-3400, ext. 402.


Member Rewards Program Will Enhance Members Ability to Participate in United Fresh Programs

This week, United Fresh announced the launch of United Fresh Member Rewards, a new benefit for association members designed to enhance members’ ability to participate in educational programs.

Upon renewing their membership in the association, United Fresh member companies will receive - based on their dues category - a series of $100 rewards certificates that can be applied towards registrations for United Fresh member programs. Rewards certificates can be redeemed for individual registrations for the annual United Fresh convention and trade show, Washington Public Policy Conference, Produce Executive Development Program, Produce Inspection Training Program, Recall Training Program or Fresh Convenience Congress. United Fresh membership staff will personally assist member companies with redeeming the awards, as well as with the registration process.

"Participating in an educational program is one of the strongest ways members can see the value of United Fresh membership," said United Fresh President Tom Stenzel. "Member Rewards will enable companies to participate in the educational and networking opportunities that will best support their business priorities."

For more information on United Fresh Member Rewards, please contact Miriam Miller, senior director of membership, at 202-303-3410 or mmiller@unitedfresh.org.


USDA, United Meet on Emerging Stink Bug Threat

United Fresh Vice President of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability Rob Neenan met twice recently with USDA officials regarding the emergence of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) as a serious threat to agriculture in the Mid-Atlantic states.

A number of tree fruit growers and other farmers have experienced devastating crop losses due to the BMSB, which is native to China and several other Asian nations. Since it was first detected in Allentown, PA, in 1991, BMSB has been detected in at least 35 other states. The pest can damage a wide range of crops and growers have had only mixed success with attempts to eradicate BMSB with several common pesticides.

In response, USDA has directed several of its research laboratories to study the biology of the pest and alternative control measures. USDA will also be working with the EPA to obtain the necessary emergency Section 18 registrations for pesticides so growers can have some tools available to fight the pests in the coming year, in hopes of keeping BMSB in check.

United will be monitoring the progress of USDA and EPA research and will keep members informed of any developments. For more information, contact Neenan at 202-303-3400, ext. 427.


Ivy League and Produce Industry Converge on Cornell Campus for Produce Executive Development Program

Registration is now open for the 2011 Produce Executive Development Program. Presented through the United Fresh Foundation's Center for Leadership Excellence and in partnership with the Cornell University Food Industry Management Program, the program will be held March 13-18 at the Statler Hotel & Executive Conference Center on the Cornell campus in Ithaca, NY.

The Produce Executive Development Program is an intense, five-day program for mid- to senior-level executives that focuses on issues critical to both personal development and the larger challenges and opportunities faced by today's produce industry leaders.  Participants will take part in a unique learning experience characterized by cutting-edge theory, industry best practices and thought-provoking discussions about key business issues affecting the global produce industry.

"The Executive Development Program is built around the precept that the role of executive is not simply a finish line to be crossed or a career plateau to be reached, but that real learning and development must continue to occur even in the corner office," said Victoria Backer, United Fresh senior vice president of member services, foundation.

"The produce industry is constantly changing and being impacted by myriad internal and external forces," said Cornell Professor and Food Industry Management Program Director Ed McLaughlin. "As such, produce executives must adapt and grow their leadership abilities to stay ahead of the curve. This program does just that, providing a real opportunity for produce executives to come together, learn from one another and move the industry forward."

This robust program agenda will include McLaughlin and other Cornell professors, guest speakers, and industry experts. Some of the topics for the 2011 course include:

  • Today's Food Retailing & Foodservice Climate
  • Negotiation & Conflict Resolution
  • Team Dynamics and Decision Making
  • Competitive Strategy
  • A Survival Guide to Financial Planning
  • Strategies for Growth in Entrepreneurial Environments
  • Leading through Change
  • Work/Life Balance: The Power of Sleep

"This [program] is an investment in human capital," said Scott McQuiston, vice president and food safety director for Enon Valley, PA-based Dawson's Orchards, and a 2010 program graduate. "The instructors are world class and have structured a program that's like a full MBA geared specifically to the produce industry which you won’t find anywhere else. The program was enhanced by the quality of the industry leaders participating and the continued relationships long after we left."

In the interest of keeping class size both informative and intimate, enrollment is limited to 40 participants. Tuition for the program includes five nights lodging, instruction, books, supplies, breakfasts, luncheons and several special dinners. For United Fresh members, the registration fee is $4995 if booked prior to January 21, and $5500 if booked after.  For non-members, the registration fees are $7995 and $8500, respectively. A complete program brochure can be downloaded here. For more information or to register for the program, click here or contact Julie Jacocks, United Fresh education manager at 202-303-3400 ext. 405.


United Fresh, USDA Continue Partnership on Produce Inspection Training Program, to Present Three Courses in 2011

The United Fresh Foundation, through the Center for Food Safety & Quality, has announced the 2011 dates for its popular Produce Inspection Training Program. These hands-on training sessions, executed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA-AMS), are designed to help produce industry members better understand the produce inspection process.

"Since United Fresh and USDA-AMS developed this program in 2002, we've trained over 700 industry professionals," said Victoria Backer, United Fresh senior vice president, member services, foundation. "It's clear this program is a valuable training tool for the industry, providing a comprehensive review of key USDA inspection procedures and standards."

"We are pleased to continue our partnership with United Fresh to offer this training in 2011," said Robert Keeney, Deputy Administrator, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, USDA-AMS. "This unique course has been designed to provide practical information and lessons that the private sector can apply directly to their businesses today."

Three Produce Inspection Training Programs will be offered in 2011 at the USDA Fresh Products Branch National Inspectors' Training and Development Center in Fredericksburg, Va.: January 10-14, May 16-20, and September 12-16.

The program is offered in two specialized courses: Fundamentals of Produce Inspection and Commodity Labs. Upon completion of both courses, attendees receive a certificate of recognition from United Fresh and the USDA.

The first of the two courses, Fundamentals of Produce Inspection, is a prerequisite of the Commodity Labs course and focuses on topics such as inspection essentials, PACA, sampling procedures, and general market principles. The three-day Commodity Labs course takes place in the lab and applies the principals learned in the fundamentals course to real product inspections. Each Commodity Labs course will include the five most commonly requested commodities: grapes, lettuces, potatoes, strawberries and tomatoes, and will be customized with additional commodities based on the attendees' most common preferences (up to 12 in total).

The following course options are available in the coming year:

January 10-11, 2011Fundamentals of Inspection
January 12-14, 2011Commodity Labs
January 10-14, 2011Both Courses
 
May 16-17, 2011Fundamentals of Inspection
May 18-20, 2011Commodity Labs
May 16-20, 2011Both Courses
 
September 12-13, 2011Fundamentals of Inspection
September 14-16, 2011Commodity Labs
September 12-16, 2011Both Courses

Class size is limited and attendees are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. The registration fee for United Fresh members interested in the introductory course is $895, while the advanced course is $1225. If both courses are taken together, members may register at the discounted rate of $1925. If three or more colleagues from the same member company register for both courses, each will receive a $100 discount on the registration rate. For non-members, the prices are $1095, $1425 and $2325, respectively. Seminar registration fees include training seminars and all course materials.

Attendees may register for the training seminars at www.unitedfresh.org or by contacting Julie Jacocks, education manager, at 202-303-3400 ext. 405.


PFSE Stresses Holiday Food Safety with Video Contest

The non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education - in which United Fresh is a partner - wants to hear from Americans about how they create a safe, fun, easy, tasty Holiday celebration. 

"Whatever your favorite holiday foods are, no holiday celebration would be complete without those special dishes," said PFSE Executive Director Shelley Feist. "With the My Food-Safe Holiday video contest, we are encouraging consumers to share a short story about their food traditions, safe food handling, and the magic they put into their winter holidays!"

Home videos entered in the contest must be two minutes or less in length, and must incorporate at least two of the four core safe food handling practices of Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill. Winning videos will be selected by a panel of food safety educators and judged on correct incorporation of food safety messages, use of storytelling, and overall originality, fun and creativity. Prizes include $250 in cash for the first place entry.  Winners will be announced in early December.

More information on the contest can be found here, and consumers are reminded to find support for their questions about holiday food safety at www.holidayfoodsafety.org.


Meet Your United Fresh Board: After Time in Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Australia, Louisville is the Perfect Size for Jackson Woodward

Jackson Woodward
CEO and President
Horton Fruit Company
Louisville, Ky.

How did you end up in Louisville?

I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma, but went to the University of Virginia. The son of Al Horton was my closest friend in college, and was killed in a car accident a year after we graduated. At the time I was getting my MBA at Indiana University in Bloomington, and through my relationship with his family, his father and I started to talk about me coming in and taking over the family business from him there in Louisville. After graduating from UVA, I went back to Oklahoma and worked for awhile, then traveled for a year, working on cattle and sheep ranches in Australia before moving to Bloomington for graduate school. I left for Louisville the day after graduation from Indiana and I've been here ever since.

What's the best thing about Louisville?

I'm not much of a city guy, so Louisville - at about a million in the greater metro area - is a nice-sized city, but not too big for me. It's a great city to raise a family in. From a business standpoint, it's great because we’re in the middle of so many major metropolitan and that enables us to hit a lot of places relatively quickly.

What would you say your biggest challenge is at Horton right now?

I think the biggest challenge facing our business, given what's going on in the economy, is the effect of people's spending habits and what consumers are doing in the grocery store, and the price pressure it creates. That all trickles down throughout the economy, so if the consumer is not spending as much, then whoever is selling them product needs to be more price-conscious. That in turn trickles down to suppliers, and so for us we have to be very conscious of making sure we're doing what's right for the people we supply, and that we do it in a competitive manner so that we don't lose business. We've got about 300 employees, and if we lose business, then we've got people's lives that will be affected. We havenlt had to lay anyone off - thank goodness - throughout this whole thing, and I certainly don't want to, so I'd say my biggest concern right now is making sure that our people are okay.

How does Horton tackle local? Is there a demand among your suppliers for locally-grown product?

We've got a company called Grow Farms, which is a grower-shipper of locally-grown fruits and vegetables - Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana - from about May through first frost, typically late October. We have about 10 to 15 different items from about 15 different farms, all under our Grow Farms label, and all because there's great demand for locally- and regionally-grown products. We've had the label operating for three years now, and we find there's a great demand for it. We've got HarvestMark traceability on all of our stuff, which I believe we were the first home-grown supplier to have.

Tell us about your family. Married? Kids?

I'm married and we've got four kids. My oldest is a girl, Doe - short for Dorothy - and she's six; next is Jack, who's five; my daughter Mae, who's three, and my youngest son Gray, who's one.

What are you doing when you're not at work?

Well, with four kids, I don't have a lot of down time. I do like to play golf, and I've got a cattle ranch out here, which is the type of thing that I really like to do. I'm looking forward to getting my kids into it as well; riding horses and working cattle.

What have you gained from your participation in United's Leadership Program?

I'd first say that I'm the type of person that focuses the vast majority of his energy and time on his business. Having said that, I feel the Leadership Program that United puts on is fabulous; I couldn't give it higher marks. I think that the program does a really nice job of exposing the participants to things that they would most likely not have exposure to without the insiders the program connects them with. I think that the pace is great, keeping participants busy with not a lot of wasted time. Further, I think that the program does a great job of selecting a diverse, neat group of people to participate. Because I feel I gained so much through the Leadership Program, I am staying as involved as I am with United.

What is one experience or influence that you can point to that has shaped how you lead your business?

When you live in Louisville, Kentucky, or any other city or town that's not based in a large fruit or vegetable growing area, it's hard to find people that know anything about produce. If you live in Salinas, they're everywhere, but if you live in Louisville, they're not everywhere. We have been very fortunate that we have quite a few young people here that are very competent and have had experience growing on farms in this part of the country or working in produce from this part of the country. We've started five or six businesses over the past few years and we’ve been able to put these people in those businesses, and in turn has made our business better and has certainly made my job easier.


New Member Welcome

Each week, United Fresh welcomes its newest partners in building a stronger produce industry:

Welcome
  • Agriculture & Livestock Industries Corporation, Azabudai, Japan
  • Extrutech Plastics, Inc., Manitowoc, WI
  • North American Strawberry Growers Association, Kemptville, ON

United Fresh thanks all current members for their dedication to the Association and the produce industry. Please let us know whenever we can be of service to you.  For more details about the benefits of membership, please contact Jeff Oberman at 831-422-0940 or Miriam Miller at 202-303-3410.


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