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South Texas continues to expand as produce entry point

In 2013, about 170,000 truckloads of fruits and vegetables from Mexico came into the United through the ports of entry in South Texas, making it the leading state in the country for imports of fresh produce.

“About 40-45 percent of the fresh produce consumed in the United States is imported,” said Bret Erickson, president and chief executive officer of the Texas International Produce Association, based in Mission, TX. “More than 50 percent of those imports come through Texas.”

The crossing bridge at Pharr in the Rio Grande Valley is the busiest port of entry, with about 100,000 of those truckloads in 2013. Laredo, Progreso and Rio Grande City make up the vast majority of the other 70,000 loads. Erickson said the number of trucks crossing in Texas is increasing every year.  

Texas, in fact, is expecting an even greater percentage of produce imports from Mexico in the near future, now that the Mexican “super highway” connecting the Pacific Ocean near Mazatlan with the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville is almost complete.

Some have estimated that annually an additional 500,000 truckloads of goods (not just produce) will rumble through Texas into the United States because of the ease of driving across that country through the mountains and into the Lone Star State.

Erickson said the significant increase in produce imports over the last couple of decades is the chief reason the Texas Produce Association added the word “international” to its moniker.  

“It reflects the growth and direction of our membership and recognizes the importance of imports to Texas,” he said.

The TIPA is recognizing how south Texas agriculture has changed with its new produce convention that will be held in San Antonio this spring. Like the ongoing trend in produce shows, it will be a regional show but with a huge international flavor. Erickson expects about half of the exhibitors to be Mexican companies that sell their produce into the United States and ship through Texas.

Of course, the Texas International Produce Association has its roots in the Rio Grande Valley and it still has its two boots planted in Texas soil. In mid-November, Erickson said the U.S. Department of Agriculture was counting the recent ballots concerning a continuation referendum on the south Texas onion deal. The TIPA executive said it was a regularly scheduled vote and there appeared to be no extra politicking for or against the measure.

Earlier this year, a previous referendum was voided because of the use of an outdated mailing list. In the past, the federal marketing order has been approved by growers, but Erickson said his concern is simply that it be a fair vote that truly represents the wishes of the industry. The results are expected to be announced in early December.

Erickson also offered kudos to Texas Rep. Mike Conaway, who was picked by the Republican leadership to be chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture the day before. Erickson said Conaway is a friend of the ag industry and has visited with TIPA and its leadership three times in the previous 18 months.

“We are very fortunate to have him in that role,” he said.  “He is familiar with grower issues in Texas including the water situation, citrus greening and the important role imports play in our economy.”

When Conaway was at TIPA, Erickson said comprehensive immigration reform was discussed. After years of working for a solution in Congress and having the optimism for action dashed, Erickson said his membership is now just looking for anything that can help it stabilize its workforce.  

“I know of actual examples of growers who have had hundreds of thousands of dollars of crops rot in the field because they couldn’t get them harvested,” said Erickson.

He added that Rep. Conaway appears open to helping to find a solution for agriculture.

With regard to current crops, Erickson said Texas citrus shipments were well ahead of last year’s pace, though some recent rain did slow the harvesting down a bit.

“Right now the citrus season is rockin’ and rollin’,” he said. “Overall the crop looks very good — very comparable to last year.”

Stickers help Green Dragon apple sales soar

Frieda’s Specialty Produce, based in Los Alamitos, CA, offers Green Dragon apples with labels to distinguish these sweet, juicy, and fragrant heirloom apples from other green apples. The labels also inform shoppers that the naturally freckled skin is quite normal.stickers2

Shoppers love the Green Dragon Apple’s sweet, low-acid flavor with hints of pineapple and pear. The skin is not thick like other green apples, making them perfect for eating out of hand. Plus Frieda’s exclusively offers Baby Green Dragon apples, which are perfect for school snacking programs.

Green Dragon apples feature a lime-green, bruise-resistant skin dotted with brown freckles. They are often mistaken for Golden Delicious or Granny Smiths, and considered to be blemished because of the freckles.   

“We launched the new stickers last season, and the feedback has been very positive,” Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Frieda’s Inc., said in a press release. “Our effort to educate shoppers and produce staff continue beyond just the stickers. We carry on the conversation about how freckles are normal for these delicious apples on our social media channels and website.”

Interested retailers, wholesalers and foodservice distributors can contact Frieda’s to book these popular apples, and gain access to Frieda’s extensive product information, high resolution images, and recipe database.

Florida strawberries on target

Shipments of Florida strawberries began in mid-November in a light way with much greater volume expected by the week of Dec. 8, which is right on target, according to Kenneth Parker of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

“We typically run from November through March,” said the association’s newly appointed executive director, adding that the crop can also be harvested and shipped into April if market conditions warrant it.

Tom O’Brien, president of C&D Fruit & Vegetable Co. Inc. in Bradenton, FL, said that perfect growing conditions this season have led to an almost perfect crop.

“I’m knocking on my head as I say that because there is no wood nearby,” he quipped. “Right now we have very good quality and a very good-eating piece of fruit.”

Parker said the acreage this year is right at about the 11,000-acre level, with the vast majority of that grown within 25-30 miles of Plant City.

“We hit a plateau at the figure and need to increase demand before we increase acreage,” he said.

As the season was getting under way, the market price was very good as California was heading into its gap period with demand exceeding supplies.

The U.S. Market News Service reported the market price for the week prior to Thanksgiving at $22-26 for California berries. Parker said the Florida market was even higher than that.

“Thanksgiving typically kicks off our season, and that is the case again this year,” he said the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

On Nov. 25, O’Brien said volume for Thanksgiving was limited to the few growers who had fruit from transplants started in a greenhouse to bring them on early, but he was expecting volume to start to pick up in about two weeks for most growers.

“From mid-December into April, we should have plenty of fruit — if Mother Nature cooperates,” he said.

Parker relayed that Florida growers are bullish about this season and the long-term prospects for the local strawberry industry. For quite some time, the industry has had an aggressive breeding program with the University of Florida, and some very promising varieties are being developed in that program.

Parker, who was a field man for a chemical firm before taking over the association position, said about 80 percent of the Florida crop is comprised of University of Florida varieties, with Radiance being the top variety this year. He added that there are some great varieties in the research pipeline, and he is particularly optimistic about one currently marketed as “Florida 127.”

He said Florida 127 is a great-tasting variety and could give Florida the unique berry it seeks for an aggressive marketing program. By next year, Parker said as many as 2,500 acres could be planted in this variety.

Parker said the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and into Canada is the main marketing area for Florida strawberries, “where the consumer values the local nature of our crop. Our unique characteristic is flavor. That’s great for the consumer and great for our growers.”

Parker replaced Ted Campbell, who led the Florida Strawberry Growers Association since 2008. Campbell, who had a very long career in the retail end of the fresh produce business before joining the association, retired on Sept. 30.

Happy ‘apple holiday’ from the New York Apple Association

“We say ‘Light Up Your Holiday Meals’ with New York state-grown apples,” said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, headquartered in Fishers, NY. “And we do highlight the three holidays — Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas — by providing great recipes to anyone who visits our website, nyapplecountry.com, and clicks on the ‘recipes’ link on the menu bar.”

The Great New York Apple Recipes’ link offers many delicious recipes and much more. Allen said that to help people have the happiest holidays, “get cooking with New York apples!”Fall-2013-MollyBeautiful, ripe and ready-to-pick New York apples.

The NYAA also typically issues an “Apples for Santa” release that encourages people to leave apples out for Santa instead of sugary products, and its stunning promotional photo is proof.

“Retailers, of course, highlight apples for pies and desserts around the holidays, but many prefer to advertise the ready-made apple pies,” said Allen. “It’s a happier and even more delicious holiday season, regardless of which holiday you are celebrating, when you get cooking with fresh New York state apples.”

The NYAA found its start in 1935 when Eastern New York apple growers joined forces with New England growers to found the New York/New England Apple Institute. The institute’s mission was to promote consumption of fresh-market apples, and membership was voluntary.

In 1950, the Western New York Apple Growers Association was formed by growers to promote apples from that region. Membership in this group was also voluntary. In 1959, New York state apple growers voted to create the first mandatory state Apple Marketing Order.

“In 1994 the New York/New England Apple Institute dissolved,” said Allen. “Eastern New York growers and the Western New York Apple Growers Association united to create the New York Apple Association.”

Since 1959, a majority of New York state apple growers have agreed to pay an assessment to promote New York state apples and apple products, provide grower communications and conduct consumer research. Under the AMO, assessments are collected by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Since 1994, the NYSDAM has contracted with the NYAA to expend AMO funds on the industry’s behalf.

The Commissioner of Agriculture appoints an AMO advisory board consisting of state apple growers, packers and storage operators to advise NYSDAM on how to contract AMO funds each year.

Growers have a chance to reaffirm the AMO at least every eight years.

The NYAA manages a range of AMO programs to support the New York apple industry, including promoting demand for New York state produced and  packed apples and apple products through promotional and educational work with retailers, handlers, consumers, processors and others. It does so by representing its members’ point-of-view to buyers, the public and state and federal legislative and regulatory entities. It also coordinates and performs agricultural and market research activities. And it cooperates with similar associations or agencies in performing any of the above purposes, and any and all things that affect the mutual interests of the New York state apple industry.

The NYAA’s board of directors is made up of 15 growers who represent six growing regions across the state. Directors are elected to three-year terms by growers in their district, and can serve two terms. A list of our current board members is available upon request from NYAA.

Allen said that as the holidays approach, people start to imagine the aroma of a fresh-baked apple pie.

“Look for New York state McIntosh, Crispin, Cortland or Jonagold apples,” he suggested. “All are ideal for pie baking. Enjoy the traditional goodness of New York apple latkes, or stir up a sweet potato and apple casserole. It’s all total comfort food.”

To “toast” the season, the NYAA suggests making its uniquely delicious apple bourbon cake, or stuff your turkey with celebration apple stuffing for something deliciously different.

“And New York state apples are grown nearby, so they get to you faster and fresher,” said Allen. “Buy local and support your area farmers and enjoy a crisper, tastier, more delicious taste of New York.”

The NYAA website also offers an Apple Discovery Guide that describes the apple varieties grown in the state, a handy locator that can help people find farmers markets, pick-your-own orchards, heirloom varieties and fresh New York state apple cider.

“We’re encouraging consumers to share the health by ordering or sending a fresh apple gift box as a Christmas gift,” said Allen. “The list of New York growers and marketers that offer fresh apple gift boxes is available on our website.”

“We’re also strong in social media,” continued Allen, “and we invite everyone to visit the website to connect with us on our media pages.”

USApple reaches 50k followers on Facebook

"Like" if you love this news: U.S. Apple Association gained its 50,000th follower on Facebook recently, demonstrating the group's expanded engagement with consumers on social channels.

In the past year alone, USApple has grown its Facebook following by 30 percent, and its page has reached more than 4 million consumers. Nearly 45,000 Facebook users (fans and non-fans alike) have shared a USApple Facebook post with their followers.

USApple is passing the milestone as it closes a year in which it was highly active on digital and social channels. Online strategy has served as a means to provide education on apples' health benefits while helping fans explore new apple varieties, meal ideas, and culinary adventures. USApple campaigns included:

  • "28 Days of Apples," an award-winning campaign in which USApple members and supporting brands got involved to encourage individuals to learn and share heart-healthy apple facts on social channels during February, American Heart Month.
  • "Apple Summer Selfies," an online contest rewarding individuals for sharing selfies with an apple or apple product in hand during summer travels and vacation.
  • "AppletizeMe," an online apple variety and pairing education program - timed to National Apple Month (October) - featuring a humorous personality quiz matching individuals with their ideal apple varieties and perfect pairings.

"We've worked hard this past year to establish meaningful relationships with consumers online - with programs including digital contests, Twitter parties, a brand new YouTube video series, Pinterest recipe boards, and other outreach," Wendy Brannen, director of consumer health and public relations at USApple, said in a press release. "Facebook has been an effective channel to pull all of those pieces together and really showcase our campaigns. We've had the 50K number in sight for a few months now and are excited to achieve that goal this fall."