October 17, 2013
In Today's Issue:
Government Re-Opens Today; United Working to Accelerate Industry Priorities

After more than two weeks, Congress and the President finally reached an agreement to re-open the federal government. But, during the shutdown, the lack of government action stalled work on several critical industry priorities.

Now that government is back on the job, United Fresh is working with industry allies and key lawmakers on Capitol Hill to focus action on the Farm Bill, guest worker processing and other time-sensitive produce industry priorities. On the Farm Bill, Agriculture Committee leadership from the Senate and House of Representatives has announced the negotiators who will work out the differences between those two bodies' versions of the bill. They've scheduled an October 28 meeting to begin drafting a unified bill to send to the House and Senate for debate and passage. United Fresh continues to work with its allies in the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance on a final set of specialty crop priorities to be conveyed to the Conference Committee. United Fresh remains committed to passage of the new Farm Bill, ensuring that it is reflective of fruit and vegetable policy needs and not another extension of the 2008 Farm Bill.

The federal government shutdown also contributed to backlogs of functions that are essential to fruit and vegetable operations, such as dispute resolutions through the Perishable Agriculture Commodities Act (PACA) and Specialty Crop Block Grants. United Fresh is working with industry and congressional allies to recommend key steps that federal authorities can take to expedite the processing of applications for the H-2A guest worker program. With producers in states such as California, Arizona, Florida and others preparing for winter harvest, time is of the essence in securing an adequate labor force to avoid massive crop losses. 

"Fruit and vegetable growers feel the financial hit from the delay in processing the guest worker applications. Growers have lost millions of dollars because those workers have not been able to harvest commodities in the field," said United's Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy. "We are letting Congress and regulators know what this delay is costing our members. Making sure that the processing of those applications is expedited and placed at the front of the line will be a top priority for us as we work to make sure all federal functions affecting the produce industry come back on line as quickly and effectively as possible."

Guenther also added that United Fresh will make passing Farm Bill reauthorization a top priority for the remainder of this session of Congress. "American agriculture has waited long enough for this legislation to be reauthorized. The Farm Bill provides badly needed resources for research, pest and plant disease mitigation, trade, nutrition programs, and block grants. These programs have proven to help fruit and vegetable producers be competitive. A reauthorization of these programs will maintain the momentum already begun."

The president echoed this call to prioritize policies that support the fruit and vegetable industry. "There are things that we know will help strengthen our economy that we could get done before this year is out," said President Obama in a White House statement issued last night. "We still need to pass a law to fix our broken immigration system. We still need to pass a farm bill. And with the shutdown behind us and budget committees forming, we now have an opportunity to focus on a sensible budget that is responsible, that is fair, and that helps hardworking people all across this country."

Sharpen Your Executive Leadership Skills by Enrolling in the 2014 Produce Executive Development Program Today!

In today's rapidly changing industry, demands on executives are more heightened than ever before. The 2014 United Fresh Produce Executive Development Program is designed to help today's produce industry executives sharpen their business acumen and enhance their executive leadership skills. United offers the program in partnership with the Cornell University Food Industry Management Program, and takes participants through a unique learning experience.

Attendees learn about cutting-edge theory and industry best practices, and engage in thought-provoking discussions about critical business issues affecting the global produce industry. The course exposes executives to the latest business trends, and teaches effective tools to advance their companies and to master skills to navigate economic challenges.

Plan to attend the 2014 Produce Executive Development Program, March 9-14 at the Cornell University Statler Hotel & Executive Conference Center in Ithaca, NY. To learn more about the program, visit the United Fresh website. If you have questions, please contact Shannon Young at 202-303-3405.


Michigan Agriculture and Faith Groups Promote Immigration Reform

Tom Stenzel calls on Michigan legislators to support immigration reform during press conference in Grand Rapids.

John Schaefer of Jack Brown Produce provides Julia Rothwell, BelleHarvest Sales, and Tom Stenzel a tour of their very busy packing house in Sparta, Michigan.

United Fresh CEO Tom Stenzel joined a coalition of Michigan fruit and vegetable growers and faith-based groups last week at a press conference in Grand Rapids calling on Congress to pass immigration reform. The event was hosted at the Christian Reformed Church national headquarters, and included Michigan Commissioner of Agriculture Don Coe, Michigan Apple Committee Executive Director Diane Smith, National Council of Agricultural Employers Board member Fred Leitz of Leitz Farms, and Stenzel. 

"It was powerful to listen to Michigan farmers talk about labor shortages this summer, and especially now for apple harvest season," Stenzel said. "These folks have a personal story that simply must be heard by Michigan's legislators in Congress." 

Following the press conference, Tom joined Mark Girardin, North Bay Produce; Julia Rothwell, BelleHarvest Sales; and Diane Smith to tour apple orchards and packing houses beginning to move this year's crop.

Read more about labor issues facing Michigan farmers in recent news stories produced by Fruit Growers News and Michigan Live.

Produce Distributors Learn about Sales Opportunities in Schools During WPPC Educational Workshop

School and produce experts delivered key messages to produce distributors at United's Washington Public Policy Conference earlier this month during the Growing Kids' Consumption; Growing New Consumers workshop. Takeaway messages included:

  • Schools are buying a lot of fresh and fresh cut produce, and they expect to buy more over the next few years.
  • Produce distributors are selling schools a good deal of fresh and fresh-cut produce, and expect to sell more over the next few years. 
  • All of the school nutrition policy changes being implemented to improve the healthfulness of school foods are translating into big growth opportunities for produce.
  • All of the school nutrition policy changes are transforming the school food environment and making it possible for students to eat at least 7 servings of fruits and vegetable every day at school.

School food service experts Jessica Shelly, School Food Service Director, Cincinnati Public Schools, and Marla Caplon, director of child nutrition, Montgomery County School District, Maryland, noted how their purchases of fresh produce have doubled in recent years. Shelly and Caplon said they expected to buy more fresh and fresh-cut produce in the coming years. They wanted the produce industry to provide more varieties of fresh cut produce.

Produce experts Phil Muir, President and CEO, Muir Copper Canyon Farms; Sean Leer, vice president of sales, Gold Star Foods; Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing, Del Monte Fresh Produce, N.A., Inc. said their sales to schools have significantly increased in recent years, and that the national school nutrition policy changes were driving this demand for fresh produce. Muir said that it was critically important for the entire produce supply chain to understand the school food service business and the opportunities to reach children, everyone's future consumer.

"In the next three years, I expect the entire school food environment to be transformed and fresh fruits and vegetables are at the center of that change," said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, United vice president of nutrition & health. "Produce industry leaders and school food service directors see the transformation taking place every day. Increasing access to more fresh fruits and vegetables will reinforce healthier eating habits for 31 million students across the country."

To view a video of the educational workshop visit United Fresh.TV. For more information, please contact Lorelei DiSogra at 202-303-3403.         


WPPC Educational Workshop Gives Industry Leaders Tools to Address Food Safety Challenges

A standing-room-only audience listened to advice from experts during the Addressing Food Safety Challenges Today and Tomorrow workshop at United's Washington Public Policy Conference earlier this month. The session was broken up into three main topics that included managing recalls, the FDA proposed rules and challenges to food importers and exporters.

Managing Recalls to Minimize Business Impact: During this session, attendees learned how a recall can impact their business and the importance of being prepared for a recall.

"Companies need to prepare messages in advance of a recall," said Lisa Watson, principal for the communications firm Watson Green LLC. "When a recall happens, it happens fast, and it's easy to forget a key audience or say the wrong thing. Having message templates prepared can help a company quickly demonstrate that they have the recall under control and are protecting public health."

David Durkin, principal, OFW Law, said having knowledgeable legal counsel before deciding to recall can make a huge difference in the size and scope of a recall. Jan Berk, vice president, San Miguel Produce, recounted the recall they went through a few years ago. "Having the right resources available when the call came in made all the difference for us," said Berk. She concluded the session by advising the audience to carefully consider participating in the Recall Ready services offered by United Fresh.

FDA Proposed Rules: Industry Response & What's Next? Members of the United Fresh Food Safety & Technology Council and the Food Safety Modernization Act Working Groups briefed the audience on three of the FDA proposed rules and the comments being developed by the Working Groups. Walter Ram, vice president of food safety, The Giumarra Companies, and past Chair of the Food Safety & Technology Council, said that "FDA got a lot right, but we have several major issues with the proposed Produce Safety rule." Chief among the comments Ram described was water testing. "Current science does not support the microbiological testing standards or frequency for agricultural water. Those, along with preharvest intervals for compost and manure use, should be published by FDA in guidance, where changes can be made as science evolves."

Bob Mills, a member of the United Fresh Produce Association Food Safety & Technology Council, emphasized the unnecessary burden that the Preventive Controls for Human Food rule could have on many operations that FDA considers "farm mixed-type facilities." Mills said that the Produce Safety rule has sufficient requirements for such operations, and that United Fresh comments will urge FDA to regulate operations that handle only raw intact produce under the Produce Safety rule, regardless of source of the produce, how far it is from where the produce was grown or the size of the operation.

Bill Pool, manager of produce safety, Wegmans Food Markets, cautioned importers to pay close attention to the proposed Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) rule. "The FSVP Working Group is still going through the rule, line by line, but we've already seen that FDA is proposing a major change in how food is brought into the U.S." Pool outlined some of the features in the rule, including that an importer must develop and follow a FSVP for each food they import, must prepare a hazard analysis for each food they import before that food is imported, and must conduct activities that verify that the hazards for each food have been controlled. He concluded by saying, "Under this proposed rule, buying asparagus from California, for example, is pretty simple, but buying asparagus from Peru becomes extremely complicated."

Challenges to Importers/Exporters in Today's Food Safety Climate: Bruce McEvoy, director of global affairs, Seald-Sweet LLC/UNIVEG Group and Stuart Jablon, vice president of operations, Dole both addressed operations at America's ports that can significantly affect food safety concerns as produce moves in and out of the US. McEvoy and Jablon explained that slowdowns at U.S. ports can exacerbate food safety challenges.

McEvoy pointed out that the ability to move commodities through U.S. port facilities efficiently and quickly is bound to become more of an industry concern as the import share of U.S. fruits and vegetables increases. According to information provided by McEvoy, the level of summer citrus imported into the U.S. has more than tripled over the past 10 years. Increases such as these indicate that the produce industry will need to be increasingly engaged in developing strategies to deal with inefficiencies at U.S. ports. Picking up on that theme, Jablon highlighted the work that United Fresh members have done over the past year to engage federal regulators and policymakers about issues such as how federal budget policies affect port resources. Jablon also highlighted the outreach that United Fresh members have conducted regarding specific port procedures to ensure examinations and movement of product is done quickly.


Specialty Crop Research Initiative Study Provides Insight into Food Safety Metrics

Dr. Robert Buchanan, Director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems at the University of Maryland, led an interactive workshop with leafy greens and tomato growers and handlers at the Washington Public Policy Conference earlier this month.

Dr. Buchanan leads the $6 million Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI)-funded grant Developing Scientifically-Based Consensus Food Safety Metrics for Leafy Greens and Tomatoes. Dr. Buchanan conducted the workshop for members of the project's Produce Industry Advisory Panel. During the workshop, Dr. Buchanan shared key findings from his study.

"Our research is showing a trend that how often you test your irrigation water may not be as important as when you test," said Dr. Buchanan. He outlined some of the other major results of the 2-year-old project, which is being conducted by researchers from seven universities, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Dr. Buchanan also described study findings concerning metrics for distances from manure and composting operations, pathogen survival in manure dust, animal droppings on produce in the field, minimum parameters for wash water in tomato operations, and the effect of temperature abuse during transportation on the potential for pathogen growth.

"We're finding that some risk factors are more or less important than others. We expect to provide the industry with the science to support focusing resources on the more important factors and to reduce efforts on factors that just don't matter that much," said Dr. Buchanan.

He concluded by asking the industry to take a message to Congress, "SCRI funded us for three years to develop the science to support food safety metrics, and they invited us to submit for funding for two more years to validate our findings in other growing regions. But the Farm Bill, with SCRI funding, has to be passed by Congress for us to finish our work."


See Highlights from the 2013 Washington Public Policy Conference!

Georgia members discuss issues facing the produce industry with Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA).

More than 500 produce business leaders came together for the 2013 Washington Public Policy Conference to advocate for our industry on issues from immigration reform to food safety to the Farm Bill. See photo galleries from the conference highlighting congressional meetings, session speakers and networking events. Photos are available from all of the events, including the United FreshPAC Reception and Dinner, the Fresh Festival and Leadership Alumni Dinner.


If You Buy, Ship or Sell Produce, the Produce Inspection Training Program Is for You!

The Produce Inspection Training Program is a must-attend program for anyone who receives, handles, buys, ships or sells produce. United Fresh, in partnership with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, is offering this expert-led program three times in 2014. This unique five-day course includes the fundamentals of produce inspection, covering essential knowledge, terminology and practical information. The course also includes Commodity Labs, which apply the principals learned in the fundamentals course to real produce inspections. USDA experts show hands-on examination of a range of commodities, including grapes, lettuces, potatoes, strawberries and tomatoes.

The Produce Inspection Training Program will be held January 13-17, June 2-6 and September 22-26 at the USDA SCI Training and Development Center in Fredericksburg, VA. Visit the United Fresh website to learn more about the program. You can also watch a video and hear from participants about their experiences in the course. Click here to register online or you can download the registration form and email it to education@unitedfresh.org. If you have questions, feel free to contact Shannon Young at 202-303-3405. 


The Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative Auditor Workshop Is Only Two Weeks Away, Register Today!

Limited space is still available for the Produce GAPs Harmonization Post-Harvest Operations Train the Trainer Workshop on October 30-31 in Maitland, FL. The two-day workshop will be held at the headquarters of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and Florida Tomato Exchange. The workshop will feature the official training materials developed by the Produce GAPs Harmonization Initiative Calibration Committee, designed to standardize food safety auditors' expectations of post-harvest packing, holding and cooling operations using the Harmonized Standards. Workshop leaders include Calibration Committee members from Quality Certification Services, Equicert  and USDA AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division.

This is the only workshop planned for 2013 so register soon! There is a nominal fee of $50 to attend. To register for the workshop online, click here. If you have questions, please contact Erin Grether at 202-303-3402. You can also download the registration form and return it via email to Erin.


There's Still Time to Register for the Recall Ready Training Workshop in Philadelphia

Food recalls can have huge impacts on all sectors of the food supply, including growers, processors and retailers. United Fresh is offering the Recall Ready Training Workshop, a two-day training session that helps growers, wholesalers, fresh-cut processors and others in the supply chain get ready for virtually any recall situation. The next Recall Ready Training Workshops is in Philadelphia, PA on November 6-7. The hands-on workshop provides participants with an understanding of the fundamentals of a product recall, your rights and responsibilities, the role of the FDA and how to work with them, and strategies for limiting your liability and managing customer expectations.

Recalls can impact the entire produce supply chain, and the Recall Ready Training Workshop will prepare you to respond when a crisis occurs. Learn more about the workshop by visiting the United Fresh website. To register for the workshop online, click here. If you have questions, please contact Erin Grether at 202-303-3402.


FDA Announces Public Meeting on Proposed FSMA Rules in October

FDA announced today a public meeting on the proposed rules on Foreign Supplier Verification Programs and the Accreditation of Third Party Auditors/Certification Bodies on October 22-23 in Long Beach, CA. The two proposed rules aim to strengthen assurances that imported food meets the same safety standards as food produced domestically. Click here to view the agenda for the meeting. To register online for the Long Beach public meeting, visit the FDA Public Meeting website.
FDA cancelled the public meeting scheduled for October 10-11 in Miami, FL due to the lapse in federal funding caused by the government shutdown. FDA has not rescheduled the Miami, FL meeting but continues to look for additional opportunities for public input on the proposed rules under FSMA.

For more information on FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act, visit the United Fresh website.


Check Out United's Member Spotlight: Amy Kunugi, Southern Colorado Farms

Amy Kunugi is on a mission to grow nutritious food. "Our industry is too polite," said Kunugi. "We should be so proud of advocating for the fresh produce we are growing because it is the best medicine to keep our country healthy."

Kunugi is the general manager of Southern Colorado Farms located in Center, CO, and is responsible for the production of lettuce, spinach, carrots and other crops on 3,300 irrigated acres, including 750 acres that are certified organic.

For Amy, the commitment to producing healthy food began more than 20 years ago when she joined the Peace Corps and went to Guatemala and Bolivia. She was interested in international development, and Amy believed growing healthy food was the best avenue to help people live better lives. When Amy came back to the U.S., she experienced a real culture shock. "Back in Guatemala I was working with families to produce food on small, one-acre plots. In the States, I was working on a completely different scale. It had changed to huge farms. It took a while to get used to the different style of production."

Learn more about Amy Kunugi and her involvement with United Fresh by reading her profile on the United Fresh website.


Upcoming United Fresh Events
day planner

Join us for events designed to grow your business:

Produce GAPs Harmonization Post-Harvest Operations Train the Trainer Workshop
Oct 30-31, Florida Tomato Exchange/Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland, FL

Recall Ready Training Workshop
Nov 6-7, Hilton Hotel, Philadelphia, PA

Produce Inspection Training Program
Jan 13-17, USDA SCI Training & Development Center, Fredericksburg, VA

2014 Produce Executive Development Program
Mar 9-14, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

Produce Inspection Training Program
Jun 2-6, USDA SCI Training & Development Center, Fredericksburg, VA

United Fresh 2014
Jun 10-13, McCormick Place, Chicago, IL

2014 Washington Public Policy Conference
Sep 8-10, Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC

Produce Inspection Training Program
Sep 22-26, USDA SCI Training & Development Center, Fredericksburg, VA