Year 2013 in Review - First Half
By Fresh Fruit Portal editor Matthew Ogg
"If fruits and vegetables are sold at bargain basement prices, can they still be regarded as desirable products in the eyes of the consumer?"
This question from German Fruit Trade Association president Dieter Krauss gives the industry much to ponder as we enter 2014. When speaking prior to the world's biggest produce event Fruit Logistica in February, the wholesaler called for a "new understanding" to stem the flow of a downward price spiral in Europe.
Understanding. It isn't always easy to get our heads around the beast that is the international produce industry, but some things are very clear. Firstly, the effects of these price pressures in developed countries would be exacerbated for growers if it weren't for buoyant export opportunities in the BRICS nations.
Secondly, political and social conflicts that are often outside the control of the produce industry continue to have a great impact on its livelihood.
Fruit and vegetable companies sell goods that are essential for tackling global health concerns, their impact on employment rates are very high compared to their contribution to global GDP, and most importantly, their products taste fantastic...most of the time.
Dilemmas about the impacts of 'race to the bottom' prices are nothing new but are as relevant as ever, in markets where consumers are more demanding of a story to accompany what they buy; a story that the produce industry has attempted to tell, but one that will hopefully have a larger diffusion to the general public in 2014 and beyond.
The biggest story on our site during the first half of 2013 was arguably the Chilean port strikes, which did appear in national news outlets but were still relatively unknown to the broader public, and received scant attention by politicians in the recent presidential elections.
Starting with a lunch break dispute in a tiny port in the country's north, the issue went national through a solidarity strike that lasted 21 days at the peak of the fruit export season.
Molotov cocktails were thrown into customs offices in Valparaiso the day before a key breakthrough was made with one union on April 5, and in what was a farcical end to a conflict that could have been avoided, President Sebastian Piñera announced that nationwide strikes were over even though 1,100 workers were still picketing at a terminal in San Antonio.
The issue was eventually resolved, after causing a deficit between actual and expected shipments in weeks 13 and 14 of five million boxes of grapes, more than two million boxes of apples and around 845,000 boxes of kiwifruit.
"What is lacking is the government and companies taking weight of the issue; that they stop looking at growth rates and see that the workers have problems, that farmers have problems, and we don't have to come to this," said Valparaiso union Uniport representative Juan Venegas.
In terms of social disputes elsewhere, the South African government put an end to violent strikes in the Western Cape by establishing a 52% rise in the minimum wage for farm workers. Many growers, however, told www.freshfruitportal.com they had already been paying above this rate. Some flare-ups have taken place in the area since, but the biggest news item for South African growers this year - apart from the death of Nelson Mandela - would probably be the tough stance from the European Union on citrus black spot (CBS); a topic that reached fever pitch in the second half of the year.
On the other side of the world, the Thai fruit industry received a blow in Europe in the wake of a report published by NGO Finnwatch alleging human rights abuses against migrant workers from Myanmar. The issue resulted in a defamation case that is ongoing against report co-author, activist and lawyer Andy Hall.
As continues to be the case, the U.S. public's attention was heavily focused on Washington D.C. and regulations relating to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the Farm Bill and the Farmer Assurance Provision, popularly dubbed the "Monsanto Protection Act". In corporate news, the Dole Food Company, just three months after announcing an "aggressive" capital budget for the year, announced its chairman David Murdock planned to take the multinational private again; a transaction that was completed in the second half.
Another key issue was neatly summarized in a report by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), highlighting that "too often governments cloak discriminatory and protectionist trade measures in the guise of ensuring human, animal or plant safety". This is one of the most common complaints we hear about from exporters and importers, the world over.
One example of an SPS measure that hurt growers this year was China's abrupt decision to ban imports of California citrus, which appears to be on the path to resolution along with a similar trade barrier for apples. The Australian citrus industry ended up benefiting greatly from the California ban, recording strong growth in China. The land down under also had its first campaign of direct cherry exports to the Chinese mainland.
Across the Tasman Sea, the kiwifruit industry in New Zealand was hit by a guilty verdict of smuggling against a Zespri subsidiary in China. Auckland-based businessman Jhun Si told the local press his uncle, convicted import agent Liu Xiongjie, had become a "scapegoat" for the industy leading marketer. Meanwhile, Zespri announced record kiwifruit returns for the 2012-13 period.
With growers and exporters continuing to look to China, a landmark event took place in March when the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) held its first ever Fresh Connections event in the East Asian nation, taking place in Shanghai. It was there that I Love Produce president Jim Provost addressed the touchy subject of the Hong Kong "gray market" and how its days were numbered, with the Chinese government cracking down on the route that has been so often used to bypass regulations to get fruit to Guangzhou on the mainland.
These were just some of the key stories that attracted our attention and yours this year, and below we have listed the most read stories by month for you to reflect upon. We would like to thank everyone in the industry for your support in 2013 and look forward to working further with you in the new year. Please don't hesitate to send feedback, story ideas or press releases to firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S.: FDA proposes new food safety rules and produce regulations. Click here
Organic farmers push for day in court against Monsanto. Click here
Specialty crops in limbo after U.S. farm bill extension. Click here
There are no ‘normal years’ for Chilean blueberries. Click here
Opinion: greenhouse helps keep U.S. hospital healthy. Click here
Plastic ball tests improve Maersk’s fresh produce transport. Click here
Australian technology converts banana waste into electricity, fuel. Click here
Germany in danger of ‘losing importance’ in fruit trade, says Krauss. Click here
Chiquita expands deciduous brand through independent licensee. Click here
Berries to become top category “one country at a time”, says Bjorn. Click here
Chile: many had to ‘leave grapes’ on the vines, says iQonsulting. Click here
Total Produce-Oppy alliance gives “huge footprint” to growers. Click here
City-Farming takes Fruit Logistica Innovation Award. Click here
Spain: getting under fruits’ skin with laser labeling. Click here
Chilean port strikes put millions of fruit boxes at risk. Click here
HK “gray market” to Chinese mainland on the way out. Click here
Opinion: do “booth babes” bear fruit at trade shows?. Click here
Zespri found guilty of smuggling by Chinese court. Click here
Budget cuts bring longer wait times to U.S. produce imports. Click here
China: from ‘small ripples to huge waves’ for produce industry. Click here
NZ: Enza Gold growers "cautiously optimistic" on Hipkins departure. Click here
Strikes force Chile to halt fruit harvest. Click here
Chinese ag giant bets on Chilean premium fruit. Click here
Blueberry production could rise 50% by 2018, but will that be enough? Click here
Fall Creek releases six new blueberry varieties. Click here
Chinese citrus ban leaves California scrambling for answers. Click here
Chinese ban on Washington apples ‘doesn’t make sense’. Click here
Fruit Fanatic: hunting for rare trees in Puerto Rico. Click here
Coca-Cola to invest US$2B in Florida citrus. Click here
Mexico: Michoacán lime producers fight for industry control. Click here
U.S.: Limoneira aims to triple lemon shipments worldwide. Click here
Chile: hydroponics bring agriculture to life in Atacama desert. Click here
South African citrus feels uncertainty from China, EU. Click here
U.S. Pacific Northwest braces for possible fruit fly surge. Click here
More Scandinavian Hepatitis A cases linked to frozen berries. Click here
Opinion: what lies behind Murdock’s tilt for full Dole ownership. Click here
Walmart promises full refunds on fresh produce. Click here
Chinese market opens for new Chilean fruits. Click here
The heat is on for U.S. West Coast blueberry transition. Click here
Del Monte banana strikers going hungry in Costa Rica. Click here
Canadian cherry exporters ready for Chinese market premiere. Click here
GM sterilization on the horizon for fruit fly fight. Click here