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Unprecedented water issues for California growers

California's San Joaquin Valley growers may face a second year of receiving no water from the Central Valley Project — an unprecedented situation.

The Bureau of Reclamation announced its initial 2015 water supply allocation for California's Central Valley. It will be re-examined on a monthly basis as the water year progresses, but this year started with Northern California's driest January in recorded history and the state is experiencing its fourth consecutive year of below-average precipitation.

“The CVP announcement is both saddening and maddening,” Paul Wenger, California Farm Bureau Federation president, said in a press release. “It’s saddening because the continued cutoff of water will prolong the impact of water shortages on farmers, their employees and rural communities. It’s maddening because California still struggles to manage water wisely and flexibly, especially in dry years.”

The California Department of Water Resources reports snowpack is below average for this date with the snow water content statewide currently at 20 percent or less of average for this time of year. The Governor’s Emergency Drought Proclamation, issued Jan. 17, 2014, remains in effect. Without unusually heavy precipitation over the next few months, extreme drought conditions are forecasted to persist throughout the Central Valley.

“We are bracing for a potential fourth year of severe drought, and this low initial allocation is yet another indicator of the dire situation,” Reclamation Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo said in a press release. “Reclamation and the Department of the Interior will continue to work with the state of California and our water users to do everything possible to increase water deliveries from the project as we move yet another difficult year. Our economy and our environment depend on it.

“The rain events in December were encouraging, but the persistent dry weather the first two months of this year underscores our need to plan for another critical year of drought," Murillo said in the release. "We have been working closely for months with our state and federal agency partners to try to minimize impacts and will continue to do so."

Wenger noted ongoing conflicts in water management, specifically about how much water is repeatedly dedicated to protection of fish and wildlife at the expense of jobs and food production for people.

“In a year like this, when every drop of water is more precious than ever, we must improve our ability to store storm flows when we can,” he said. “People have real frustration about bureaucratic decisions that send excess water out to sea beyond what’s needed for the ecosystem and delta water quality, when that water could be stored for later use, both by people and in the environment.”

Wenger said the continued drought lends urgency to the current process of allocating money to be invested from the water bond approved by California voters last November.

“Farm Bureau and other organizations will continue to work with the California Water Commission to ensure that bond money for surface-water storage projects is apportioned as rapidly and as effectively as possible,” Wenger said. “We are suffering now from our past failure to improve our water system. We shouldn’t compound the suffering by studying projects to death. It’s time to invest the money that Californians voted to invest.”

This initial set of CVP allocations is based on a conservative assumption that dry conditions will continue for the remainder of the water year. With almost two months remaining in California’s rainy season, there is still an opportunity for improved conditions and supplies.

GMO 'Arctic' apple company sold

Okanagan Specialty Fruits, the agricultural company behind the newly approved GMO "Arctic" brand apple, has been acquired by Intrexon Corp. The acquisition comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Department of Agriculture deregulated the GMO apples.

"We are committed to bringing better versions of consumers' favorite fruits to their grocery stores and kitchens, while addressing additional novel traits in tree fruits that reduce waste and address supply chain challenges," Neal Carter, founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, said in a press release.arct1A conventional Granny apple next to an 'Arctic' Granny. "Joining forces with Intrexon and applying our combined technical know-how is an important step to introducing beneficial products for consumers and growers."

One of the fastest-growing categories of the fruit and vegetable industry is the fresh-cut segment, bolstered by the convenience factor and upward trend in consumption of healthier foods.  Marrying the art of fruit breeding with cutting-edge science results in exciting new products that can benefit consumers and producers alike.

"The Arctic apple provides consumers with an answer to a pesky but common food issue without any flavor-altering, anti-browning additives," according to Intrexon. "It is an alternative to current approaches to browning control, which are more costly and require the application of chemical solutions or antioxidants. Additionally, apples will be increasingly accessible to foodservice outlets, where consumers spend roughly 50 percent of their food dollars, because Arctic apples solve both cost per serving and quality concerns associated with pre-cut apples."

"Okanagan is a world leader in the development of fruit-bearing plants to express enhanced, advantageous traits with tremendous potential to revolutionize the tree fruit industry," Thomas R. Kasser, senior vice president and head of Intrexon's food sector, said in the release. "Through this acquisition, we can deliver more accessible and affordable choices of high-quality foods for an ever-growing population.  We are extremely pleased that Neal Carter will remain with the company providing both the creative spirit and deep understanding of the tree fruit business that will assure continued future success in this expanding business opportunity."

Pursuant to the definitive agreement, Okanagan's stockholders will receive $31 million in Intrexon common stock and $10 million in upfront cash. Consummation of the transaction, anticipated in the first half of 2015, is subject to customary closing conditions.

Retail panel addresses current issues at Southern Exposure

ORLANDO, FL — Will produce departments expand to correspond with increased sales? Is a separate section for organic produce or home delivery of groceries the wave of the future? Where do you learn about new produce items? How can we reduce shrink in produce or overcome consumer fear of genetically modified produce?

These and other burning questions were posed and answered by a panel of experts in a 1950s TV game-show format at the Southeastern Produce Council’s recent Southern Exposure show, here.SEPC3915-JUDGE-REGGIE-GRIFFINReggie Griffin, a 42-year veteran with Kroger Co., now a consultant, served as judge for the 'Ask a Retaile'” panel in a 1950s TV game-show format.

The morning session Feb. 27 drew a packed house of about 200 and was guided by a gavel-wielding judge, black-robed Reggie Griffin, a 42-year veteran of Kroger Co., who served as vice president for produce and floral for 10 years before becoming a consultant.

“If you don’t know who Judge Judy is,” he warned the crowd, “you need to get a life.”

Panelists, all top executives in produce retailing, were Chris Dove, executive director of produce for Delhaize and a 28-year veteran executive at that chain; Gary Miracle, director of produce for Associate Wholesale Grocers and a 44-year retailer, who started as a bagger at Schnuck’s; and Scott Bennett, produce director at Jewel Osco, who started as a produce clerk 30 years ago.

Produce departments will become larger due to increased sales, the panel agreed, though Miracle said they might grow upwards rather than outwards, with more linear feet but not more floor space. Stacking and refrigerated displays will become more prominent, he added.

Dove said a separate section for organic produce will be more popular because the organic shopper wants to see all options in one place. Home delivery of produce and groceries will be largely in urban areas, Miracle said, because customers want to see and touch and smell produce at the store. Dove said home delivery was “no huge deal” but not a problem for his company.

The panel said they learned about new produce products by watching TV shows like the Food Network.

“Shrink is a big part of our life in produce,” said Dove, whose company has a department devoted to reducing shrink. Other panelists said it was a necessary part of produce operations because it was tied to quality.

Genetically modified produce is already in the stores, accounting for 80 percent of produce, according to Jim Panadol of Pandol Bros., who noted, “We have a Star Trek industry, but our consumers want Little House on the Prairie.” Consumer education is the answer, panelists said.

Along the way, panelists noted double-digit sales growth in value-added produce products, the continued growth of the local food movement and how sampling can drive sales. Consumers need help in learning how to prepare produce, Miracle observed. Technology in stores is the key to consumer education, Dove added.

Summing up, Griffin said there is a huge gap between the grower -- the supply side -- and the retailer -- the demand side, “and I hope we’ve reduced it today.”

Next year’s SEPC program may include a panel, “Ask a Shipper,” a council official said.

Mango supplies on the rise

Several factors have combined to create less-than-usual mango supplies over the last couple of months, but that’s all about to change. Mexico has been in production since late January and heavy supplies are expected no later than the beginning of April. In addition, both Nicaragua and Guatemala will be shipping to the United States in the March-April time frame.Hand Bowl1

It all adds up to good supplies that should allow for excellent pricing and many retail promotions. Isabel Freeland, vice president of Coast Tropical in San Diego, said the cold weather on the East Coast has limited demand and prevented retailers from getting excited about a tropical fruit such as mangos. But she told The Produce News Thursday, Feb. 26, that the situation will change as the weather warms and supplies increase.

“We will have significantly more volume than last year,” she said. “We expect to have 30 percent higher volume, and I think the entire industry is going to be up. The growing conditions have been excellent and there’s more fruit on the trees. In two weeks, we are going to see the start of heavy volume and it’s going to stay that way for a while. By the middle of the March, Coast will be bringing in 25-40 loads per week just from Mexico.”

Larry Nienkerk, manager of Splendid Products in Burlingame, CA, also expects the volume of Mexican mangos to increase throughout March and allow for many promotions from early April through the summer. He said once the volume shipments begin, they won’t let up.

Gary Clevenger, managing member and an owner of Freska Produce International in Oxnard, CA, agreed that spring and summer volume of mangos will be much better than the winter months. He said Peru’s volume in January and February was down a bit as was the earliest volume from Mexico. That resulted in a good market in late February with a carton of mangos commanding about $9 f.o.b.

Combine that price with cold weather in the east and mango movement was fairly slow with virtually no promotions.

West Coast ports labor issues were problematic for importers this year. The challenges at the ports resulted in a work slowdown and a much greater wait time before ships could be unloaded. Nienkerk said some fruit was six weeks old before it could be sold.

The situation led to importers loading fruit on ships bound for the East Coast rather than the West Coast. Clevenger said for the week of Feb. 23, 130 containers were loaded for East Coast delivery while only eight containers were on ships bound for the West Coast. Peru was nearing the end of its season that week, but Clevenger said the disparity was indicative of the uncertainty of the West Coast port situation when those shipments were being booked a week earlier.

Nienkerk said the end of the Peruvian deal should be cleaned up fairly quickly in early March, paving the way for Mexico to begin its volume shipments.

Green Giant completes national network of fresh herb facilities

Green Giant Fresh has completed its national network of fresh herb packing facilities. These locations extend the company's ability to deliver premium fresh herbs around the country from certified local and regional farms.GROUP-GGF-Herbs-Pouches

“These strategic locations mean better efficiencies and shorter lead times, adding to the products’ shelf life, retailer profits and consumer satisfaction,” Jamie Strachan, Green Giant Fresh chief executive officer, said in a press release. “Our local and regional certified farms supply local herbs when possible, and draw from common regional farms to deliver year-round supplies.”

In addition to its original herb farm near Chicago, Green Giant Fresh packs and ships its line of 15 farm-fresh herbs from Saco, ME, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles and Salinas, CA. This national coverage ensures the freshest herbs available year-round across the United States and Canada. Additionally, Green Giant Fresh has the most extensive line of pouch herbs combined with a complete line of clamshell herbs. Organics, private label and foodservice packs are also available through this common footprint.

"I've worked for a number of major fresh herb companies over the past 25 years, and I’m confident we’re poised to deliver on our mission of consistently delivering quality fresh herbs year-round,” Vern Meyer, general manager of Green Giant Fresh herbs, said in the release.