Ringing In 2008

First, I would like to wish each and every one of you a Happy New Year! Like the year before, it seems like 2007 flew right by. Unfortunately, the high hopes most people had that labor and immigration would be reformed simply didn’t happen. On a more positive note, however, we just learned — as we are about to go to press — that the Senate passed the Food, Energy & Security Act of 2007, the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill.

This version of the bill contains unprecedented advances in funding and policy priorities for the fruit and vegetable industry. The hope now is that Congress can appoint a conference committee so differences between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill can be ironed out quickly. Look for updates on the Farm Bill in our biweekly e-newsletter, VegWire Online. (To sign up for the e-newsletter, go to www.americanvegetablegrower.com and click on e-News.)

Food Safety Controls

In addition to labor and immigration and the Farm Bill, food safety also has been a major issue during the past year. Many large growers are implementing additional food safety measures and absorbing the cost instead of passing additional expenses on to the consumer (see Future Expectations on page 14). How long they can continue to do that and stay in business remains to be seen. 

As we begin 2008, USDA is considering uniform rules for leafy greens. These rules are in response to the E. coli outbreak in 2006 in bagged spinach. If implemented, these rules would apply to all growers — large and small. The guidelines would require all leafy green growers to follow specific guidelines in the fields and during postharvest handling.

These proposed rules would probably be similar to those already in place in California. Because the costs involved in implementing the rules for small and medium-size growers may be a huge financial burden, these growers will have to look for ways to offset these additional expenses. We will be following this story closely, as well.

News From The Great Lakes Expo

Again this year I had the opportunity to attend the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market Expo in Grand Rapids, MI, in December. This trade
show and conference is a great opportunity for me to meet with growers and others in the industry. Most of the growers I spoke with echoed what many throughout the country are saying: input costs continue to increase, creating an additional burden.

To combat increasing costs, some are saying they try to cut back in other areas to recoup profits. One grower, Sharon Kokx of Kokx Produce in Hickory Corners, MI, said she spends more time shopping around to get the best price for supplies than she did a few years ago. The bottom line, however, says Kokx, “is to offer quality produce to keep people coming back.”

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