We know you don’t have time to keep up with everything going on in the produce world — we’re here to help. Here’s a look at what mattered this week and what’s coming up soon, from a major acquisition by Shuman Produce Inc. to President Trump’s surprising approach to foreign competition, from a space-aged new processing line at Generation Farms to the “new kale” — and GM pests and viruses that could actually help the produce industry…

FFVA Joins Putnam Calling for Mexican Probe; Trump Shocks American Citrus Growers With Ban Lift

On the heels of Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam’s call last week for an investigation into Mexico’s alleged unfair trade practices, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA) has lent its voice to that same plea.

“Florida is the second-leading state in the nation in the production of fruits and vegetables, with an overall economic impact of $12.2 billion. While the state grows the highest quality agricultural commodities in the world and can successfully compete in a fair global marketplace, unfortunately the current unfair trade environment fostered by the North American Free Trade Agreement has had a disproportionately negative impact on Florida farmers,” said FFVA President Mike Stuart.

Florida officials are hopeful of finding friendly faces in the Trump administration, with U.S. Department of Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross being a Palm Beach County, FL resident and newly installed USDA head Sonny Perdue a former governor of Georgia.

But the administration shocked California citrus growers this week with a decision to allow lemon imports from Argentina’s top producing region for the first time in 16 years. That decision came from Perdue’s Department of Agriculture.

Blueberries are among items facing fierce Mexican competition. (Photo by Chip Carter)

California growers have claimed the Argentinians do not meet the same phytosanitary conditions U.S. producers do. Trump overrode a December Obama decision to lift the ban with a 60-day stay, which many expected to be extended beyond that.

California citrus officials said they were “blindsided” by the move and that the Trump administration had “flat-out” ignored their concerns.

One California legislator said Argentinian imports will “wreak havoc” on the American industry financially and potentially from a pest and disease standpoint as well.

Meaning the Florida contingent and other domestic industry can’t count on unwavering “America-first” support from the Trump camp.

Since 2000, FFVA projects Florida farmers have lost $1 billion-$3 billion to Mexican imports. Strawberry imports have almost tripled since 2000, and imports of tomatoes have boomed from 1.2 billion pounds in 2000 to 3.2 billion pounds in 2016.

FFVA says Mexican produce is unfairly subsidized and brought into the U.S. at prices significantly below the cost of production. Mexico’s “unfair trade practices have allowed Mexican producers to become the dominant suppliers of specialty crops into the U.S. market and have resulted in the continued decline of Florida production in these sectors.”

Regardless, Stuart and the FFVA remain hopeful that help is on the way, saying “We look forward to working with the administration on a timely, effective solution for Florida’s specialty crop production and its economic impact on jobs and our economy, and bring much needed relief and fairness.”

Shuman Addition Increases Capacity Dramatically

Shuman Produce Inc. in Reidsville, GA has upped its ante in the Vidalia and Peruvian onion deals and paved the way for expansion in other categories with the purchase of the Plantation Sweets Vidalia onion operation in Cobbtown, GA.

John Shuman. The featured photo at the top of this page was taken by Chip Carter near Mr. Shuman’s Reidsville, GA home last month.

The 620-acre property was auctioned last month and reportedly fetched a price of about $5.5 million. The deal includes a 94,000 square foot packing facility. The move will allow Shuman to increase domestic sweet onion production in-season as well as storage and packing capabilities year-round.

“We view this acquisition as a good fit for Shuman Produce and a way to expand our Vidalia onion land base and infrastructure,” said company President John Shuman. “This will enable us to continue serving our retailers with best in class customer service and a high quality product under the RealSweet® brand.”

For the past two seasons, Shuman has grown broccoli and dabbled in sweet potatoes. The new resources will allow those programs and others to grow strategically.

Meanwhile, Shuman already has plans to begin using the controlled atmosphere storage space on the property in the coming weeks for this year’s Vidalia onion crop.

Meet the New Kale (It’s Not Green…)

If you haven’t poked your head in the produce department in a while, go check out what they’ve done to the cauliflower.

Whole Foods Market Inc. and B&G Foods Inc.’s ‘Green Giant’ brand have both reported double digit growth in nationwide sales of the crucifer for two years in a row. And a quick glance at restaurant menus show cauliflower has staked out its own spot in the culinary landscape.

“It’s absolutely everywhere,” Elena North-Kelly, managing editor at the culinary arts organization the James Beard Foundation told Bloomberg News. “Cauliflower’s moved from the boring side dish, and now we’re seeing it take on a starring role.”

In 2015 B&G introduced mashed cauliflower, a frozen cauliflower-and-sweet-potato medley, and cauliflower “rice.” Whole Foods followed shortly thereafter with the same products in its 365 line. Both companies report growth in all markets, not just in “foodie” enclaves and major cities. Other packagers have followed suit with similar items.

The same benefits that sparked the kale craze — low-carb, gluten-free, and healthy eating – are driving cauliflower and recipes for it to the top of social media charts. Add in low cost and year-round availability and we have a contender for produce’s next “cool” crop.

Generation Farms Opens New Space-Age Packing Line

The Stanley Family has been growing onions near Vidalia, GA for decades. In 2014 they joined the Lake Park, GA-based Generation Farms family, which also includes Coggins Farms and other facilities. At the time the Stanleys believed the move would give them the ability to level up in production of organic and conventional Vidalia, red, yellow and white onions, as well as a full line of processed items from frozen onions for food prep to dressings.

The proof of that was in the pudding May 1 as Generation Farms celebrating the opening of a new state-of-the-art packing line that automates more of the process and provides tighter quality control than is possible from humans.

“The machine looks at the onion from every possible angle,” Vince Stanley said. “It can even see inside to make sure there are no internal defects.”

For more on the new line, here’s our video from the grand opening, produced by SPW’s own Jake Hallman and Jenni Kight.

USDA Looks At GM Bugs, Viruses for Pests and Greening

It’s sounds like the premise for a bad sci-fi movie, but the USDA is looking at a pair of proposals to introduce genetically modified pests and viruses to control destructive pests and diseases.

At South Florida’s Southern Gardens Citrus Nursery, there has been a trial underway for several years to determine if citrus trees that include antibacterial and antiviral genes from spinach are viable. Now Southern Gardens has asked USDA to sign off on its approach to fighting greening, which threatens to destroy the Florida citrus industry.

The genetically modified Citrus tristeza virus has been engineered to emphasize bacteria-fighting proteins found in spinach. The GM virus is grafted onto citrus trees, not sprayed – the equivalent of a vaccination. USDA is preparing an environmental impact statement on Southern Garden’s proposal you can read about here.

The diamondback moth destroys cruciferous crops. (Photo by Olaf Leillinger)

Meanwhile, diamondback moths are no friend to crucifers like broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Cornell University researcher Anthony Shelton is among scientists who have engineered a strain of diamondbacks where the females are too short-lived to reproduce. Now Shelton wants to release thousands of GM diamondbacks in a 10-acre vegetable test plot to test the potential as an insecticide-free control method for diamondbacks.

Diamondback moths are a global pest of cruciferous crops such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbage. On April 18, USDA released a draft environmental assessment of a proposed experiment by a Cornell entomologist with GM diamondback moths. The scientist, Anthony Shelton, plans to release tens of thousands of GM moths into a 10-acre vegetable field to test their potential as an “insecticide-free” control option for diamondback moths. The GM moths have been engineered to repress female survival, known as a “female autocidal trait.” USDA’s environmental assessment concludes there would be no harmful effects from the project.

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