Year 2013 in Review - FreshFruitPortal.com

Year 2013 in Review

Opinion
Year 2013 in Review

By Fresh Fruit Portal editor Matthew Ogg

Matt Ogg profile"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.

But when it comes to the most visits, you can't always pick 'em. Across the world we covered a wide range of hard-hitting subjects in 2013, but the most read individual story of the year was about an enterprising Turkish teenager who found a way to make bio-plastics from banana peels.

So while many in the fruit industry will remember 2013 as a year of Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) debates, devastating frosts in Chile and to a lesser extent in Argentina, and global citrus experts locking heads with the European Union over import regulations, on the innovation front this will be the year of Elif Bilgin.

We were pleased to see a great response to human interest and technology-related stories in general this year, which was a trend throughout. In the second half, these included articules on cassavas, muscadines and Hatch chiles to name a few.

I have the privilege of getting to meet some very interesting people in my job, but someone who particularly caught my attention this year was James Dale from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), who has invested tireless efforts to help banana crops withstand the threat of disease in both the developed and developing world.

In an industry where "genetically modified" has become a dirty term (I've noticed companies with products that have never had any history of genetic modification are now marketing themselves as non-GMO), projects such as Dale's show the kind of benefits the technology can bring. This is probably heightened by the fact the initiative, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), has food security at its core.

Elsewhere in genetic modification, Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF) moved through one more hoop of U.S. regulatory processes as it seeks to gain approval to grow its Arctic apples, which are non-browning and mostly pitched to the foodservice industry.

The news received a frosty welcome from U.S. apple industry leaders, but the company's founder Neal Carter told www.freshfruitportal.com consumer surveys had been very positive.

The frosts in Chile dominated the news in September, which I'm sure will be a month that many - especially growers and exporters, but also importers - would like to forget. Unfortunately its effects will still be seen in 2014 crops such as kiwifruit to a major degree, and apples. In-depth information can be found at our Frostschile2013 tag page.

The month was memorable for us for a different reason however, with the arrival of Yawen Chen to our editorial team to lead our new Mandarin-language news site Chinafruitportal.com, which we officially launched at the Produce Marketing Association's (PMA) Fresh Summit in New Orleans in October.

Much has happened since then, including a significant announcement from Peruvian produce multinational Camposol that it would invest US$100 million in blueberry plantations over three years, in what the company claims will be the "biggest agroindustrial project that has been developed in Peru without a doubt".

Later this year, issues that are nothing new for the fruit industry such as drug-related violence affecting Mexican growers, and the specter of banana disease in Costa Rica along along with the subsequent announcement of an agricultural emergency, made headlines in some of the world's leading news outlets.

It is difficult to guess what 2014 will bring, but we will continue to endeavour to bring you the most relevant, up-to-date and interesting stories as we can. Below we have listed the most read articles 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 mogg@freshfruitportal.com.

January

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

February

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

March

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

April

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

May

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

June

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

July

Teen creates bio-plastic from banana peels. Click here

U.S.: Paramount Citrus to acquire assets from Grimmway Farms. Click here

Interactive tool maps out world of bananas, potatoes and cassava. Click here

Cassava ‘revolution’ takes off in Mozambique. Click here

Consumers turn away from fruits and vegetables in U.S., Europe. Click here

India: U.S. apples struggle against a cheaper offer from Iran. Click here

U.S.: new wild strawberry found in Oregon. Click here

August

U.S.: the Hatch green chile identity crisis. Click here

Sun World International changes hands. Click here

Argentina: ATC releases lemon damage estimates. Click here

GM bananas: from nutrition to disease resistance. Click here

Fresh U.S. cherries arrive direct to Chinese homes. Click here

Kiwifruit consumption lifts mood and energy, NZ study shows. Click here

South Africa: produce packaging leads the way. Click here

September

Chile: frosts may cut some crops by 25% in two key regions. Click here

Asian Long-horned Beetle found in Canada. Click here

Opinion: muscadine, the great American super fruit. Click here

Bag color can affect banana ripening. Click here

U.S.: Whole Foods plans tiered labeling for sustainable produce. Click here

U.S.: Safeway to pay US$600,000 penalty over greenhouse gas emissions. Click here

Australian researchers branch out with robot farming. Click here

October

Chilean govt releases official frost damage estimates. Click here

U.S.: federal shutdown creates uncertainty for agriculture. Click here

Shipping giants join forces to form South American company. Click here

U.S.: Limoneira makes US$8.75M land expansion. Click here

Chile must watch out for Australia-China FTA. Click here

Changes afoot for Chinese fruit purchases. Click here

Russia bans Pakistani fruit. Click here

November

Brazil develops natural treatment for citrus greening. Click here

Customs strikes cause delays for Chilean fruit exports. Click here

U.S. suspends avocado imports from Mexican town. Click here

Ethylene-absorbing strip slows fruit aging process. Click here

Okanagan expects U.S. approval for Arctic apples in early 2014. Click here

CPMA highlights "aggressive timeline" for Canadian produce import changes. Click here

U.S.: Del Monte agrees to settlement over discrimination lawsuit. Click here

December

“Blood avocado” story appears in Mexican press. Click here

U.S.: Paramount Citrus ups the ante in citrus marketing. Click here

Camposol exec outlines ambitious blueberry plans. Click here

Pest prompts new requirements for Chilean blueberries. Click here

Costa Rica declares state of phyto emergency. Click here

China: excess fruit demand drives Joyvio’s global sourcing push. Click here

Getting in early: airfreight produce for “sophisticated” consumers. Click here

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