July 28, 2011

In Today's Issue:

Walter P. Rawl's Wingard Looks Ahead to 2012 Farm Bill at Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing

Walter P. Rawl & Sons Director of Field Operations and United Fresh Government Relations Council member Charles Wingard brought more than testimony to Washington this week. He brought a cooler of snacks. Bearing single-serving gifts of Rawl's "Sports Candy" line of grape tomatoes, sugar snap peas, broccoli florets and baby carrots, Wingard testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee Thursday morning on the importance of preserving the vital specialty crop programs as Congress begins the process of shaping the 2012 Farm Bill.

The hearing, Opportunities for Specialty Crops and Organics in the Farm Bill, was the first major hearing by the committee in Washington focusing on fruits and vegetables and the Farm Bill. Wingard's testimony touched on the successful efforts of the industry in the shaping of the 2008 Farm Bill, and he explored ways the industry can build on those opportunities as discussions surrounding the 2012 version of the legislation. Wingard also highlighted the important ongoing efforts of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, which continues to work diligently to develop a set of policy recommendations that will be presented to Congress and other interested stakeholders when Congress begins more formal deliberations on the bill.

Through the efforts of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, led by United members like Wingard, $3 billion in critical funding was allotted for pest and disease, nutrition, research, and conservation projects relating solely to specialty crops. Since passage of the 2008 bill, that funding has been invested nationwide to help maintain the competitiveness and viability of the fruit and vegetable industry through state specialty crop block grants, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, critical pest and disease priorities and funding for value-added grant initiatives.  

Additionally, during the introduction of Wingard and his fellow panelists, Committee Chair and long-time produce advocate Debbie Stabenow of Michigan recognized the efforts of Wingard's daughter, Mary Grace, in successfully lobbying South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley to name collards the state vegetable. A video of the hearing is available here, and a copy of Wingard's testimony can be downloaded here.

First Version of Field Operations and Harvesting Food Safety Standards Finalized

In a marathon two-day session, the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative completed the review and finalized the official first version of the pre-farm gate Harmonized Standards. The TWG reviewed comments from auditors, suppliers and customers that performed ten pilot audits since the Harmonized Standards were drafted last August.

"Throughout the process of developing the Harmonized Standard, one of the constants has been the working group's consideration of feedback. The group has worked hard to consider every comment, and where those comments indicated a weakness or potential for misunderstanding in the standard, changes were made," said Suresh DeCosta, Chair of the TWG and Manager of Quality Systems U.S. Supply Chain Management for McDonald's, who hosted the meeting.

The TWG also reviewed the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) guidelines for GAP food safety standards to ensure that all guidelines within the scope of the Harmonized Standard were addressed.

The Harmonized Standards were initiated as a result of the 2009 United Fresh Global Conference on Produce Food Safety Standards, where 300 stakeholders in the fresh produce supply chain met to discuss audit fatigue and whether differences between existing audit standards were improving food safety or just adding cost. Since that time, the TWG, comprised of over 150 volunteers representing growers, shippers, customers and audit organizations, met ten times to harmonize thirteen GAP food safety standards into a single checklist appropriate for all fresh produce commodities and all size operations. A second checklist, for post-harvest operations, is still considered draft and will be finalized by the TWG soon.

The finalized Field Operations and Harvesting standards are available free of charge by clicking here. A "Calibration Committee", comprised of auditor trainers and commodity experts, is being assembled to develop a training program for auditors on how to use the standards, and organizations like the Agricultural Marketing Service of USDA, NSF Agriculture (previously NSF Davis Fresh) and NCSI Americas are already making plans to offer audits using the Harmonized Standards.

"As of September 1, we will be using the harmonized standards exclusively in our standard GAP audit process," said Donna Garren, president of NSF Agriculture.

GLOBALG.A.P and SQF, which offer food safety certifications based on the GFSI guidelines, are also working to adapt their audit checklists to utilize the harmonized standards.

"SQF supports this industry calibration and was pleased to be a part of the harmonized standard process. We look forward to working with United Fresh and the produce industry in incorporating the key elements of the harmonized standards into the SQF program," said LeAnn Chuboff, senior technical director for SQF.

United Fresh will continue to serve as secretariat of the Harmonized Standards for the benefit of the fresh produce industry. Please contact Dr. David Gombas, senior vice president food safety and technology, with any questions regarding the Harmonized Standards at 202-303-3400, ext. 411.

McEvoy and Manes Take to the House on E-Verify

SealdSweet's Bruce McEvoy joined United Fresh Government Relations Director Julie Manes Tuesday for meetings with key congressional allies in the effort to establish a responsible and plausible guest worker program to accompany recent legislation from House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX).

The pair met with Rep. Bill Posey and staff from the offices of Reps. Dennis Ross, Connie Mack, Allen West and Rich Nugent, each from McEvoy's home state of Florida, as well as long-time produce champion Rep. Sam Farr and staff from the office of Rep. Devin Nunes, both of California.

Rep. Smith's legislation would mandate that agricultural employers confirm the work eligibility of each employee through the use of the federal E-Verify system, an enforcement-only approach that United Fresh has long contended will not work. During the meetings, McEvoy and Manes worked to build support for a proposed amendment to the Smith bill proposed by Rep. Dan Lundgren (R-CA) that would establish a guest worker program.

For more on United's work on farm labor issues, please visit www.UnitedFresh.org.

 


All 53 Cincinnati Public Schools to Receive Salad Bars

What started with four salad bars donated through Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools has come to fruition in Cincinnati, fittingly ending with four more salad bars donate by United Fresh and the initiative. Starting in the fall, and through the perseverance and leadership of CPS Food Service Director Jessica Shelly, the city's 53 public elementary, middle and high schools will have a salad bar serving fresh fruits and vegetables to more than 34,000 students in the Queen City.

The recent accomplishment is chronicled on First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! blog.For the full article, please click here, and for more on Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools, visit www.saladbars2schools.org.


House Ag Notes Importance of Nutrition Programs in Farm Bill

Accounting for more than 75 percent of all Farm Bill spending, the legislation's Nutrition Title is critically important. That was the message from House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture Chair Jean Schmidt (R-OH) last week during a hearing on nutrition programs in preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill.

Chairwoman Schmidt noted that, because of the spending accounted for by nutrition programs, it is important that to ensure that those programs are delivered effectively.

While most of the hearing focused on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, several subcommittee members took the opportunity to praise the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, noting that one of the accomplishments of the 2008 Farm Bill was its expansion to schools in all 50 states and the benefits to millions of low-income elementary school children.

Rep. Chellie Pingree noted that her home state of Maine has a waiting list of schools that wish to participate and asked USDA to provide data on how many eligible schools in each state are unable to participate due to limited funding.

"I was very impressed with this hearing," said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health at United Fresh. "In this challenging current fiscal environment, it demonstrated bipartisan support for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program and other essential nutrition programs as Congress begins to consider the 2012 Farm Bill. The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program will benefit more than 4 million elementary school children nationwide this coming school year and protecting its funding is one of United's top priorities in the 2012 Farm Bill."

For information about the schools in each state with Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program funding for the 2011-12 school year, please contact DiSogra at 202-303-3400, ext. 403.

Have You Heard What Congressman Sam Farr Has to Say About the Washington Public Policy Conference?

How about National Watermelon Association' Bob Morrissey, or Pear Bureau Northwest's Kevin Moffitt?

Produce leaders and policymakers alike know that United's annual Washington Public Policy Conference is the only place that unites the industry's most prominent leaders with legislators on Capitol Hill and regulators from across the federal government. Watch United’s video featuring these and other produce industry leaders.

Click here for more information on how your company can benefit from this one-of-a-kind opportunity to make a real impact for the produce industry in Washington.


United Members Help to Guide New Pilot of Sustainability Calculator

In response to grower input from the pilots conducted last year, data input requirements have been significantly scaled back for this year's pilot of a new calculator designed to provide feedback to growers in the form of baseline calculations about their on-farm stewardship of water, soil, nutrient and energy resources.

The Coordinating Council of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC) held a teleconference on July 15, during which it commented on the new calculator that it will pilot later this summer.  The beta version of the calculator is a Microsoft Excel-based tool that improves upon the approach used last year.  The Coordinating Council approved the release of the calculator pending some technical improvements to be incorporated before its release.

Information provided by the calculator includes:

  • Water use efficiency by acre and unit of production
  • Simple irrigation efficiency using crop evapotranspiration
  • Soil organic matter as compared with the soil's potential
  • Energy use by acre and unit of production

 

The Coordinating Council also had a lengthy discussion concerning the confidentiality of data obtained during the pilot.  The group approved a data confidentiality policy designed to preserve the confidentiality of the data that is contributed by volunteer pilot participants during the evaluation of the calculator.  The Coordinating Council agreed that aggregated data that maintains the confidentiality of the individual pilot participants may be developed when communicating lessons learned within the specialty crop sector, but no release of such data would be made without consideration by the Coordinating Council. 

Once this year's pilot is completed, the Coordinating Council will review data generated by the program to determine if and how it can be used to interpret sustainability metrics across operations within a crop sector.  SISC is hoping to test the calculator on fruit and vegetable operations of all scales, with a focus on citrus, potatoes, strawberries, processing tomatoes, winegrapes and romaine lettuce.

United Fresh is well-represented on the SISC Steering Committee and Coordinating Council, with Board Members John Keeling of the National Potato Council and Charles Hall of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, members Maureen Torrey Marshall of Torrey Farms, Jim Knutzon of Farm Fresh Direct, and Del Cabo's Larry Jacobs, as well as United's Vice President of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, Burleson Smith.

Members interested in piloting the Stewardship Index metrics should contact Jessica Siegal at 707-331-1810.


United Webinar on Produce in Schools a Smashing Success

The opportunities presented to produce companies through the expanded role of fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals policy was the focus of a sold-out webinar Tuesday at United Fresh. The webinar was the second in United's four-part Summer Webinar Series presented by 3M Food Safety.

Two produce business leaders, Tony Freytag, director of sales and marketing at Crunch Pak Sliced Apples, and Phil Muir, president and CEO of Muir Copper Canyon Farms, spoke alongside Jessica Shelly, food service director for Cincinnati Public Schools.

Shelly highlighted how CPS has significantly increased its purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables over the last five years, noting the particular impact of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and salad bars (it was announced this week that all 53 CPS schools will have salad bars beginning in the fall). She also discussed the wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables she purchases and what she looks for in produce distributors.

Muir noted how his school business has grown significantly since 2005 and how he builds and maintains his business relationships with schools, emphasizing that the new federal school meals regulations create major growth opportunities for food-service distributors like Muir Copper Canyon Farms.

"Schools are where the growth opportunities are," he noted.

Freytag introduced the webinar, noting how Crunch Pak's school business has grown over the past few years and how business with schools supports the Crunch Pak brand in over 12,000 retail stores.

United Fresh members who missed the webinar can access the full version here. United Fresh gives special thanks to our wonderful speakers for making this webinar such a success. The webinar series continues August 30 with an exploration of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

United to Honor Industry Champion in Washington for 10th Annual Produce Industry Advocate of the Year

United Fresh will again honor one outstanding advocate for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry this October at its annual Washington Public Policy Conference. United's Produce Industry Advocate of the Year Award pays special recognition to one company that serves as an advocate for the entire produce industry.

"These corporate citizens are leaders that make an impact and drive the industry forward," said Robert Guenther, United's senior vice president of public policy. "We look forward to accepting and reviewing the nominations in what will assuredly be, as it has been for the past decade, a very competitive, devoted and deserving group."

The award recipient is selected based on the candidate's demonstration of outstanding support for public policy advocacy with federally-elected leaders; diligent work on federal policy objectives to advance the fresh produce industry; active involvement with produce industry political initiatives such as the Washington Public Policy Conference, Grassroots Action Network and United FreshPAC; and United Fresh membership. The recipient of this year's award will be announced at the 2011 Washington Public Policy Conference.

Past Produce Industry Advocate of the Year Award winners include:

2010 - C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.
2009 - Pro*Act, LLC
2008 - Walter P. Rawl & Sons
2007 - New York Apple Association, Inc.
2006 - Sunkist Growers, Inc.
2005 - L & M Companies
2004 - Produce for Better Health Foundation
2003 - Tanimura & Antle
2002 - Capital City Fruit Company, Inc

For more information on the United Fresh Produce Industry Advocate of the Year Award, contact Angela Tiwari at 202-303-3416.


Chairman's Roundtable Thanks 2011 Supporters

United Fresh's Chairman's Roundtable provides extra support for programs in government relations, food safety, nutrition policy and other areas to help grow the produce industry. We are pleased to recognize the following companies who have committed to the 2011 Chairman's Roundtable:

  • Food Lion, LLC, Salisbury, NC
  • Mastronardi Produce, Kingsville, ON

The Chairman's Roundtable is an opportunity for United Fresh member companies to contribute above and beyond their basic dues. Roundtable members are industry leaders who set the pace in building United Fresh's strength in areas that do not generate their own revenue. Members of Chairman's Roundtable enjoy special recognition throughout the year for their support.  For more information on the Chairman's Roundtable, please contact Director of Membership Miriam Miller at 202-303-3400 ext. 410.


New Member Welcome

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

Welcome
  • Scotian Gold Cooperative, Kentville, NS
  • Szawlowski Potato Farms, Inc., Hatfield, MA
  • Tufts University, Boston, MA

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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