Kathy Means, Produce Marketing Association

Market Report

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Cutting Seed
This spring, it seems growers are more ready than ever to get into the fields to plant seed and get the season started. I think it’s because there’s so much uncertainty going on in the economy and the potato industry that growers are chomping at the bit to get into something they actually have some control over.

All winter we’ve watched input prices rise and fall – from fuel to fertilizer to seed – and the credit market and food industry tighten. Processors have backed off on prices and the Mexican market is facing a 20 percent tariff on potato products. Food safety once again is at the forefront with numerous recalls over the last six months.

But it’s not all bad for the potato industry. Last month, Russia and the United States signed an agreement opening the Russian market to fresh U.S. potatoes. There’s also a push in government to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. Fuel prices and other input costs should remain low this season as well.

It’s easy to get caught up in the negative, but keep in mind that there are always opportunities. As growers and marketers of the healthful, affordable potato, we can help families provide nutritious meals on a budget in a time when saving money is important to households.
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Kathy Means
Produce Marketing Association
 
What is going on in Washington, D.C., to fix the Mexican tariff situation, and what is the Produce Marketing Association’s position on the trade issue?

We want it fixed and we have sent a letter to President Obama along with others asking to get this fixed. We attended a meeting at the Mexican embassy last week. Things are moving forward and people are working on it. I’m a USDA ATAC member, and we sent a letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack asking him to do whatever it takes to get this fixed.

Pears are in the worst shape right now, but other products are going to be coming into shipping season soon, so they’ll begin to feel it too.

Have you heard why certain commodities were singled out?

They said they went to pre-NAFTA tariffs. I don’t know if that’s true or not. The whole thing hinges around the agreement in NAFTA to allow Mexican trucks into the United States, and since the United States didn’t uphold the agreement they might have gone back to pre-NAFTA.

Are there pieces of legislation in Congress that PMA is supporting that could benefit or harm the produce industry?

We’re not supporting or opposing any particular piece of legislation. We have our platforms and try to include those positions in the discussion, such as food safety.

There’s the Costa and Putnam bill in the House and the Durbin bill in the Senate. We’re expecting the Dingle bill to move forward this year, but even that bill is vastly improved from last year.

What we’re looking for is legislation that moves forward our platform for food safety. We had Bob Whitaker, our chief science officer, in Washington to talk to some of the departments and were participating in the discussions.

What are some of the food safety issues PMA is pushing for in Congress?

We’re definitely looking at risk-based, science-based programs. We’re looking for imports and domestics to be treated equally. We think food safety is a public good and should be paid for out of public dollars. There are some things that could be paid for out of user fees – for example, if a recertification is needed, then maybe the company could pay a user fee – but in general the basis is for the public good and should be funded publicly. It should also apply along the entire supply chain and not just to farmers.

Are there any other topics PMA is tracking this spring?

Immigration reform has taken a back seat to the economy and food safety, but it’s still an important issue. Child nutrition reauthorization – there are things going forward with that. That’s always important to make sure produce is included in the profile. Everyone has to follow the new program for WIC this year. Two states have already implemented it, but the changes to the program go into effect this year – and at long last that includes fresh produce. TEXT

 

Market Report
While growers in most of the potato-producing states are busy preparing for planting, Florida growers are well into their season. The weather has been dry in Florida, leading vegetable producers to irrigate, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). However, a freeze in January damaged potato vines and will likely reduce yields for the spring crop.

Also dry is California, which is now three years into a drought, although storms in early March improved conditions slightly. The Southwest, Nebraska and Kansas also have also seen little rain this spring – about 2 percent of normal, according to NASS. Excess water was a problem in North Dakota and Minnesota in March. The area received six inches of rain – 400 percent on normal – which led to extensive flooding of the Red River in North Dakota in late March. The Southeast also has received a lot of rain this spring, and it should help alleviate some of the drought concerns and refill some of the reservoir systems.

California’s winter potato harvest wrapped up in March, and USDA estimates improved from earlier in the crop season. Growers harvested about 9,000 acres in California, an 18 percent decrease from 2008. Total harvest is estimated at 2.16 million cwt., down 15 percent from 2008 but up from previous forecasts. Yields, estimated at 240 cwt. per acre, are about 10 cwt. higher than last season.

Spring potato production in California is projected to be up about 1 percent from last season, with total production around 7 million cwt. Florida spring potato production is up about 1 percent from 2008, according to USDA, at 7.76 million cwt. That’s a decrease of about 2 percent from 2007. Texas spring potato production is projected to increase by 16 percent as a result of increased yields and increased acreage. North Carolina also is expected to increase production by double digits, increasing 19 percent from last spring. USDA also is projecting a 9 percent increase in production from Arizona.

 

FiberBind Potato Fiber
PICTURE KMC has released a new line of potato fibers called FiberBind that can be used as a functional ingredient in a number of different applications. FiberBind is available in different granulations, suitable for use in different food products. The potato fibers can be used to increase yield in meat products, add texture to sauces and ketchup, retain water in bakery products or add fiber to any application.

The core functionality of the FiberBind products is their ability to hold large amounts of water. One part of FiberBind is able to hold 13 to 14 times its weight of water.

In meat products such as sausages and cold cuts, the ability to bind water is important to the quality of the finished product, and FiberBind 300 and FiberBind 400 can increase yield and nutritional quality. In fat-reduced dressing and sauce products, FiberBind 300 will stabilize the water content and provide a stable product. In ketchup products, FiberBind 300 can be substituted for concentrated tomato and still give the pulpy structure of ketchup.

In baked goods, both FiberBind 400 and FiberBind 300 provide an increased yield of the dough along with a more moist bread after baking combined with an increased fiber content that improves the quality of the bread.