Inside this Food Report
Noon International representatives ended the month of February by attending the America Frozen Food convention in the city by the bay, beautiful San Francisco, CA! As usual the convention was fast paced and hectic as we had a chance to meet with suppliers and customers from around the globe. We noticed a reoccurring theme this year on food safety with so many processors here in the United States and around the world improving on the safety of the food they produce by securing more safety audits and new equipment to ensure that the foods you eat are safe. One U.S supplier in particular has just passed and is now certified SQF 2000 Level 3 with a 98.81 total score out of 100…amazing!
It has been a challenging start to the Northwest vegetable crop year. Acreage is expensive and limited due to competing crops such as wheat and field corn. We have heard numbers of 15% to 20% more being paid to growers to secure land this harvest season. This coupled with increased fuel cost will certainly affect prices for Northwest commodity vegetables. So expect to pay more for your corn, peas, carrots and potatoes this year!
While there could be the possibility of reduced acreage on US vegetables this year, countries such as Chile are increasing their acreage and production on asparagus and blueberries due to high demand.
Mexican broccoli is still in tight supply due to winter freeze damage and inventories are expected to remain tight throughout the spring and summer period. Please see more details about crops in our “crop section” below.
While it was fun to be in San Francisco and see all of our old friends and make new ones it is now time to buckle down and get to work for our suppliers and customers. It will be a busy and challenging year ahead but we here at Noon International would not want it any other way!
All the best.
Lily and Betty
United States: No more hard freezes were recorded in Florida during February. This has allowed vegetable prices to stabilize after being driven up by cold weather in January. In preparation for St. Patrick’s day Florida vegetable growers are readying for cabbage harvest, although some problems with white mold have been observed. Harvest of strawberries, bell peppers, celery, sweet corn, endive, radishes, squash, and tomatoes also continues in the state.
Commodity vegetables such as corn, peas, carrots, and potatoes will see higher prices this season. Wheat prices have doubled and field corn is being increased for ethonal use which has increased the raw material prices that processors are paying to grow their vegetables. This combined with higher fuel costs will certainly bring the price up for vegetables this season.
Mexico: A freeze at the beginning of February, which spread from the northern border with the US as far south as the state of Sinaloa, will cause problems into March for both fresh and processed vegetables. Sinaloa had not had a major freeze since 1957. Corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and squash from all parts of Mexico affected by the freeze have already seen increases in prices in both the fresh and process market. Price increases should continue into at least the middle of March. Prices on all Mexican vegetable and fruit commodities will probably stay higher than usual for at least a month.
Broccoli and cauliflower continue to be in tight supply. Due to winter freeze damage supply coming from the fields has been sporadic and broccoli and cauliflower inventories will most probably remain tight through spring and summer.
Guatemala: Broccoli production continues to slow as the broccoli season in Guatemala winds down. Peak season will begin again in July and broccoli coming out of Guatemala will remain tight until middle /end July.
Chile: Weather in Chile has been mostly dry in February with southern zones receiving precipitation in the last part of the month. Blueberry production is complete and according to most sources it has been a good season with favorable weather and good yields. Some problems with rain and labor unrest were noted during the blueberry season though not widespread.
Kiwi production should begin in the first part of March and stretch all the way until November. So far it is anticipated that 2011 will be a good season for kiwis as there have been no major yield reducing weather events.
Argentina: Warm and wet weather during February has done tremendous good for Argentina’s grain crops. In northern Argentina moderate to heavy rains improved soil moisture in row crops. Harvest of early planted corn should begin in the first part of March. With favorable weather conditions Argentina is expected to have a good grain harvest in 2011 despite predictions earlier in the year that drought would reduce yields.
New Zealand: Tomato and potato psyllid pressure continues to increase in New Zealand. Weekly monitoring numbers compiled and published by the Potatoes New Zealand organization show that insect numbers are most concentrated in Hawke’s Bay. Generally the number of psyllids trapped has increased across the board from the beginning of the year.
Reports of the kiwi disease PSA in New Zealand kiwis continue, but it must be noted that some reports indicate that less than 1 % of the crop is affected by the disease. This might mean that predictions anticipating a 10% decline in kiwi exports from New Zealand from last year might be too high. As long as weather holds out, and PSA is not discovered in significantly more orchards, it is increasingly likely that exports could equal those of last year.
A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck New Zealand’s second largest city, Christchurch on February 22nd. While damage in the city has been severe, losses to agriculture appear minimal.
Australia: Flood waters in Australia are receding. While there are still areas underwater and rain continues to fall in parts of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, water levels are lower than they were a month ago. Total damage is currently valued at $4 billion USD, and the agricultural and insurance industries in the country have been complaining that there is serious lack of adequate flood mapping that could have reduced the cost of damage. $600 million USD of the $4 billion is due to crop damage caused by the floods.
Cyclone Yasi ripped through northern Queensland during the beginning of February. Crop damage in the region is predicted to exceed $500 million USD, half of the total value of agricultural products from the region. Damage was most evident in sugar and banana crops. The cyclone destroyed an estimated 80% of the banana crop from the region and sugar futures rose to their highest levels since 1980 following the storm. Further inland in Queensland dry weather has allowed grain harvests to mature.
The government Biosecurity agency of South Australia has reported that locusts will be a problem for one more month. Intense aerial spraying campaigns have kept the pest largely in check. The government agency continues to encourage landowners to adopt rigorous spraying and monitoring programs but says that this advice should not, “undervalue the success of the spring 2010 locust response which was the most extensive aerial spraying program ever undertaken in South Australia and easily surpassed the combined spraying done by other states last spring.”
Thailand: Significantly less rain fell in Thailand during February allowing producers in all parts of the country to dry out and begin to resume production. As flood waters dry completely the extent of the damage should become clearer. Corn, rice, and pineapple crops have been reported as affected by the flooding though the extent of the damage is difficult to gauge at this time.
China: China has reportedly announced it will invest over $1 billion USD to help alleviate the effect of one of the worst droughts in Chinese history. The money would be used in raising the minimum purchase price of grain, funding anti drought research, and subsidizing the purchase of anti drought technology and equipment. Major wheat producing areas such as Shandong and Henan have gotten very little precipitation since last year. China is currently trying to find a way to mitigate the effects of the drought on the summer wheat harvest.
The price of canned mushrooms in China has increased in the last year. Lower production, increased production costs, and higher demand for fresh mushrooms have all combined to increase mushroom prices significantly. China’s vegetable shortages have increased the demand for fresh mushrooms diverting product generally sold to processors.
February snow in parts of China’s broccoli and cauliflower growing regions have caused serious damage to the crop and prices have risen dramatically on these two items.
Food prices in China, as in most of the world, have been rising steadily over the past year. Droughts, floods, and weather problems in China and around the world have combined to raise the price of food domestically produced and imported into China. There are reports that the Chinese government is considering steps to stabilize the price of food in the country.
Reportable Food Registry’s First Year in Review
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opened the Reportable Food Registry (RFR) in September, 2009 and published their First Annual Report in January, 2011. The report identifies the purpose of the RFR as establishing, “an electronic portal to which industry must and public health officials may report when there is a reasonable probability that an article of human food or animal food/feed (including pet food) will cause serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.” The purpose of the report was to evaluate the success of the RFR at receiving early warning for any problems potentially affecting food and animal feed. The report indicates that the first year of the RFR went very well and prevented a number of foodborne illness and contamination outbreaks both in domestically produced and imported food, but that there is room for growth and improvement.
In the first year there were 2,240 reportable foods submitted to the RFR. Of these submissions 1,117 occurred during the month of March in response to a widespread case of salmonella in hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP). In total 177 different products containing the potentially affected HVP were prevented from reaching consumers. While this was the largest success story of the year, the RFR also played an important role in identifying Salmonella as a particular and largely unaddressed problem in low moisture foods. Due to a high number of reports submitted to the RFR involving Salmonella particularly on nuts and nut products, the FDA has begun work on a Draft Guidance for Industry on Salmonella in Low-Moisture Foods. Not only has the RFR been essential in identifying a food borne illness outbreak it has proven valuable in identifying areas in which more food safety guidance is needed.
Another food registry system opened by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) called the Safety Reporting Portal (SRP) has been received by the food industry as simpler and more user friendly than the RFR. The First Annual Report mentioned the FDA suspects that many RFR users might have migrated to the SRP to use features not available in the original RFR portal, so this is an area of improvement for the RFR. Also, the number of reports from foreign food manufacturing facilities was small when compared to domestically submitted reports, and the FDA suspects this is due to a lack of awareness among international manufacturers concerning their RFR obligations. In response, in 2011, an international RFR awareness campaign will be mounted. While there is certainly room for improvement, the RFR has in its first year proven a valuable tool for stopping unsafe food reaching the consumer and identifying food safety areas that need improvement. It seems the RFR will be an important part of the FDA’ strategy as it implements the newly passed Food Safety Modernization Act.
Pomegranates Sow Seeds of Controversy
The pomegranate is one of the oldest cultivated fruits, and arguably one of the healthiest. Native to Iran and the Western Himalaya, pieces of pomegranate dating from 3000 BC have been found in Israel. Considered by many ancient cultures to have health benefits ranging from cataract treatment to an astringent useful for wound cleaning, today health benefits of the fruit are a widely advertised topic of controversy and scientific study. Pomegranate juice in particular has received a lot of attention for its health benefits largely due to recent disputes over health claims made about pomegranate juice between the Federal Trade Commission(FTC), and a large California based producer of pomegranate juice. Are pomegranates nutritious, what was the dispute all about, and do pomegranates have specific health benefits?
It is undeniable that pomegranates are healthy fruits with many of the essential vitamins and minerals which make up a good diet. Pomegranates contain significant amounts of vitamin C, vitamins A and B, and a lot of potassium. Polyphenol antioxidants punicalagin, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid are also in high amounts in pomegranates and pomegranate juice. In particular it was the way these antioxidants were advertised, not the existence or possible benefits of the nutrients themselves, that inspired the FTC to bring a lawsuit of false and unsubstantiated claims. The FTC felt the company was making false health claims about their pomegranate product in language similar to that used in pharmaceutical ads promoting treatments or cures. The processor of the pomegranate juice drink has never backed down from their stance that they advertised what scientific studies had indicated, and never made any claims concerning cures or treatments.
The truth is there very well could be powerful nutritive properties in the antioxidants which exist in the pomegranate. Studies, many of them ongoing, have seen some preliminary indicators that the pomegranate, especially the polyphenols in pomegranate, could have some specific health benefits against cancers and other diseases. Although all these studies were done with mice or in test tube and don’t necessarily reflect what would happen in the human body. Studies that were done with humans all conclude that more research is needed. The good news is there is no reason not to eat pomegranates on a regular basis! Pomegranates are tasty, fun to eat, and while not a cure or treatment for any disease, are packed with many nutrients long known to be important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Hot Demand for Chile’s Bluberries
In 2010/2011 the Chilean blueberry industry has seen consistent growth in both frozen and fresh domestic production and exports. The end of the Chilean blueberry season approaches with the last harvests in southern zones projected to be completed by week 8 of 2011. Overall growing conditions have been favorable, although problems with labor unrest in the central zones reportedly affected some fresh packing operations. Exports to the United States appear to be set to increase compared to last season. Stronger domestic demand for blueberries for frozen production has processors reporting that raw material prices have increased significantly from last season. Total frozen and fresh blueberry production in Chile is predicted by the Chilean Blueberry Committee to nearly double in the next five years.
According to the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA, last year’s fresh and frozen blueberry imports into the United States from Chile as of February 5th, 2010 were 20,104 MTS. By February 5th of this year the US had imported 33,290 MTS of fresh and frozen blueberries from Chile. For perspective, during the entire 2009/2010 season, the US imported a total of 35,290 MTS of blueberries. Total Chilean production is predicted to go from an anticipated 58,240 MTS this year, to over 100,100 MTS by the 2014/2015 season. This predicted dramatic increase in production is driven by improving yields on currently producing fields as well as additional product from newly planted stands which will come into maturity in the next few years.
Low inventories of frozen blueberries in United States’ cold storage have increased demand for Chilean frozen berries. This reportedly inspired a 15% decrease in fresh shipments from Chile during the first week of 2011 as fresh berries were diverted to freezers. As long as frozen blueberry inventory in the U.S stays low, Chile will continue to enjoy a robust increase in their exports into the U.S.
Did you know...?
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has increased the amount of ethanol that is legal to put in car gasoline from 10% to 15%. Opponents of the decision say that ethanol burns hotter and is harder on engines than just gasoline. It will raise the price of everything from bread to meat, to vegetables at the grocery store as farmland is diverted to growing corn intended for ethanol production.
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