Category Archives: Produce News

USDA declares disaster for 19 Florida counties

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a natural disaster declaration for 19 Florida counties, acknowledging widespread damage by Hurricane Irma.

The declaration lets farmers and ranchers in those areas seek support, including emergency loans, from the Farm Service Agency, according to a news release.

“I thank U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue for taking action to support Florida’s farmers and ranchers still picking up the pieces from Hurricane Irma,” Florida agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam said in the release Oct. 13. “Our preliminary estimates peg the total damage at more than $2.5 billion, but it’s important to recognize that the damage is still unfolding.

“Today’s disaster declaration provides much needed support, and I will continue working with (Florida Gov. Rick Scott) and our leaders in Washington to get Florida agriculture the relief it needs to rebuild,” Putnam said.

Citrus industry losses have been projected at $760 million.

The USDA released its first citrus crop estimate last week, but industry members say the department grossly understated the extent of the damage from Irma.

Story by Ashley Nickle @

Understanding the Millennial Mindset

Produce Retailer Editor Pamela Riemenschneider and The Packer  editor Greg Johnson answer questions after presenting Fresh Trends research at The Packer's West Coast Produce Expo in May. Their presentation will focus on millennials at this year's MIdwest Produce Expo.

The Packer’s Midwest Produce Expo is back in Kansas City, Mo., Aug. 14-16 for its sixth annual edition, and this year the show focuses on a huge generation of consumers who are changing food retailing: millennials.

“Millennial Mindset is our theme this year to get the produce industry better information about reaching this important group of consumers,” said The Packer Publisher Shannon Shuman

The Packer Editor Greg Johnson and Produce Retailer Editor Pamela Riemenschneider will present a millennial version of their Fresh Trends Quiz Show, which uses Fresh Trends 2017 data to show attendees how to better market to millennials, and it uses real-time audience answers in the presentation.

“Pamela and I have some surprises for our attendees,” Johnson said. “For instance, younger consumers tend to buy fruits and vegetables less often than other age groups according to our Fresh Trends survey, but they’re even with or above the other groups on tropical fruits. We’ll explain why and what retailers can do with that information.”

Keynote speaker Matt Beaudreau has given keynote presentations to many corporate groups, and he uses proprietary data on millennials to show how to better market to and employ them.

The Millennial Mindset education program starts with a presentation on e-commerce and grocery delivery by Erick Taylor, president and CEO of Pyramid Foods, a Rogersville, Mo., retail chain, which operates 52 stores under several banners in Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Then, Garland Perkins, U.S. retail solutions with The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, will analyze millennials using her personal experience and professional experiences.

The 5-hour expo is Aug. 15 at the headquarter hotel, the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center.

Buyers from Associated Wholesale Grocers, Kroger, Supervalu, Woods Supermarkets, B&R Stores, Lucky’s Market, 99 Cents Only Stores, Reasor’s Food, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, McKeever Price Chopper, Queen’s Price Chopper and Balls Food Stores, and more, are registered to attend.

Story by Greg Johnson at

Citrus greening threatening your trees? Florida will send you tiny wasps

Homeowners with citrus trees in their yards can apply online to have a vial of tiny parasitic wasps mailed to them, that can then be released onto citrus trees.

To defend the state’s citrus crop from an industry-crippling infection, scientists with the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services are fighting pest with parasites.

Florida residents can apply online to the department for tiny parasitic wasps called tamarixia that hunt the Asian citrus psyllid, an invasive insect that spreads the fatal disease “citrus greening.”

The psyllid carries the infection, which plugs the plant’s phloem, starves the tree and causes fruit to drop prematurely. Tamarixia feed on the pest and lay eggs inside young psyllids, killing them and, hopefully, the bacteria that cause the disease, said biological scientist Gloria Lotz.

At a mass-rearing lab in Gainesville, one of a few throughout the state, Lotz and fellow researchers supply over 1 million tamarixia every year to commercial citrus growers and now, Florida residents who want to protect their backyard citrus trees.

The tamarixia release program is one of several tools researchers and growers use to slow greening’s spread, including pesticides to kill the disease-causing bacteria and hydroponic systems to keep infected plants healthy.

But there’s no single solution to a complex problem like citrus greening. It’s infected nearly 100 percent of the state’s mature citrus trees, said Steve Futch, a citrus agent at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.

Biocontrol methods usually operate as a “series of waves,” he said; when there are fewer pests, the parasite that hunts them starts to decline, too.

The chances of eradicating the psyllid and the infection with tamarixia are slim, he said — but it should work well in smaller, urban environments, where wasps can fly between citrus trees on different properties.

The citrus industry employs nearly 76,000 growers, truckers, pickers, and packers who face job loss if crop production continues to decline. But Futch said despite the bleak prognosis, Florida’s staple crop will survive—though it may be a bit smaller.

“There will always be a citrus industry in Florida,” he said. “It will be different in the future than it is today and in the past.”

Citrus tree owners can apply here to have a small vial of the tiny wasps sent to their home:

Story By Scottie Andrew, GateHouse Media Services

Growers expect big strawberry volume for late season

Growers expect bountiful summer strawberry supplies to carry over into autumn.

Strawberries were abundant in the summer, and that trend should continue as the season heads toward autumn, marketers say.

“Right now, there’s still a lot of strawberries available in promotional quantities into September, and then we transition to a fall crop out of Oxnard and that goes into December,” said Jim Grabowski, director of marketing with Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc.

Well-Pict grows strawberries and raspberries for the late-season deal on about 700 acres in Oxnard, Calif., Grabowski said.

The late-season deal has a challenge not like any other, Grabowski said.

“The trouble is, this time of year, we have a lot of competition from other fruits out there,” he said.

“There’s a lot of people fighting for promotional spaces on the ad pages and space in the produce department. This is our time to work harder.”

Summertime strawberry promotions are ubiquitous. It falls on marketers to keep the momentum going in the late summer and fall, Grabowski said.

“It’s a matter of reminding people,” he said.

“They’ve been seeing (strawberries) all summer and, once you transition to fall, if you can keep retailers to keep them front and center, they still will move.

“It may not have to be the No. 1 item in the ad — the idea is to be in the ad.”

Strawberries have eye appeal, which counts for a lot in a retail produce department, Grabowski said.

“If strawberries can stay in a good position, prominent in the produce department, they still will sell,” he said.

Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Berry Growers has a fall crop in Santa Maria, Calif., said Craig Moriyama, director of berry operations.

“By design we set that back from a year ago because there was too much overlap (with the Salinas Valley crop),” he said.

“We pushed that back more toward an end-of-August, September and first-of-October-type deal. Oxnard will go in October and November with their fall strawberries.”

Production has been steady over the summer, with somewhat mild conditions, Moriyama said.

Everything looks good for the fall crop at CBS Farms in Watsonville, said Charlie Staka, operations manager.

“We are on track with that crop, and it looks like we’ll have good volume for the fall,” he said.

The late-season deal should begin under “stable” market conditions, said Jason Fung, berry category manager with the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group.

“Obviously, the Fourth of July and post-Fourth often has an effect on all items on produce,” he said.

As of July 14, strawberries from the Salinas-Watsonville District packed in flats of eight 1-pound containers with lids were $5-9 for size medium to large, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A year earlier, the same item was $8.

The start of the 2017 season was a bit rocky, slowed by some cool, wet conditions in the late winter and early spring, but the crop settled in nicely afterward and continues to produce good-quality fruit, said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms.

“We are not expecting any real shifts in volume for the next several weeks, as summer weather patterns have really settled in and volume will be somewhat consistent on a weekly basis,” she said.

Story by Jim Offner at

Organic sales inch upward for some foodservice suppliers

Organic produce generally isn’t as popular among foodservice operators as it is at retail, largely because of its price.

Still, several suppliers offer a number of organic products for their foodservice customers, and many report at least a small uptick in sales.

Church Brothers Farms, Salinas, Calif., launched its organic salad offerings about a year ago, said Kori Tuggle, vice president of marketing and business development.

“We’ve started and have kept it simple with three ‘staple’ organic salad items: wild arugula, spinach and spring mix,” she said.

The company’s organic demand is increasing “modestly” among foodservice customers, Tuggle said.

“I believe operators are still looking to offer organic items. However it has to meet their food cost limitations,” she said.

Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif., offers a full line of organic vegetables “with sustained growth projected for 2017,” said Mike O’Leary, vice president of sales and marketing for the fresh-cut division.

Sales of organic baby spinach have held steady, and it continues to be popular at foodservice, he said.

Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., continues to expand its product offerings to meet the demands of consumers who prefer organic produce, including avocados and bananas, said Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing.

“We supply different offerings to different segments or venues,” he said. “For instance, organic avocados are sold to two of the casual dining chains we supply.”

Demand for Arcadian Harvest Organic from Mann Packing Co. Inc., Salinas, Calif., continues to grow, said Gina Nucci, director of corporate marketing.

The product is particularly popular at universities and organic-focused restaurants as well as retailers, like Whole Foods salad bars, she said.

Arcadian Harvest Organic, available year-round, combines four lettuce varieties, like green leaf, red leaf, tangos, lollo rosa, batavia and oak leaf, according to the company’s website.

In the avocado category, Robb Bertels, vice president of marketing for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., said there currently is a “little bit of demand” for organic product at foodservice, especially from specialty restaurants. But he said demand seems to be growing.

“Millennials have a certain passion for organic,” he said, so he expects that trend to result in increased organic sales.

Mission Produce ships organic avocados in white boxes with purple accents so that the product stands out in distribution centers or storage areas, he said, distinguishing it from boxes of conventional fruit.

D’Arrigo Bros. Co., Salinas, Calif., offers organic versions of its Andy Boy romaine hearts and Andy Boy broccoli rabe, said Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos, director of marketing and culinary.

Andy Boy organic romaine hearts come in cartons of 12 three-count packs and seven six-count packs, and Andy Boy organic broccoli rabe comes in 1-pound bunches.

Story by Tom Burfield

Florida citrus industry getting pulped; orange crop down 16 percent

The orange projections are up slightly – which the Florida Department of Citrus focused on as a positive sign – from June by 200,000 boxes, but it still represents a decline from the year before by 16 percent.

“Ending the season on a positive note is a big deal because it shows there is still investment in Florida’s signature crop. It takes quite serious effort to produce every single piece of fruit. Every additional box shows promise for Florida Citrus,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus in a prepared statement.

Grapefruit harvests are down 28 percent from a year ago.

Last year, growers produced 81.6 million boxes of oranges, and 10.6 million boxes of grapefruit.

Droughts and residential encroachment have put increasing pressures on a struggling industry that has already been fighting with a deadly citrus disease called citrus greening. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam compared greening to a “biblical plague” going through state groves.

“The future of Florida citrus, and the tens of thousands of jobs it supports, is wholly dependent on the discovery of a silver bullet in the fight against greening,” Putnam said in a statement. “Florida’s brightest minds are making progress toward a solution, but until then, we must continue to support our growers and provide them every tool available to combat this devastating disease.”

Citrus greening, also called Huanglongbing, a bacterial infection spread by certain insects, is incurable once a tree is infected. It was first discovered in the U.S. in Miami-Dade County in 2005.

Typical commercial trees have a viable life of 50 years, but trees infected with citrus greening can die in as few as five years according to the USDA. Infected trees often produce bitter and misshapen fruit. In June, citrus greening was confirmed in Alabama for the first time.

During the 1997-98 season, Florida produced 244 million boxes of oranges. A decade ago, the state’s citrus industry accounted for nearly three-fourths of all citrus production in the U.S. Now that number is down to just 58 percent. California, which filled 48 million boxes this year, accounted for just under 41 percent.

Story by: