Specialty Crops Newsletter

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Specialty Crops Newsletter

December 2017

Deputy Administrator Sonia Jimenez

Sonia Jimenez
Deputy Administrator 

As AMS Specialty Crops Program (SCP) looks forward to serving you in 2018, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of our industry partnerships and the collaborative efforts to enhance our services for you.  At the suggestion of industry leaders, the AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Service (SCI) Stakeholder Outreach Initiative was created to engage with you in providing insights, perspective, and input on strategies to strengthen and enhance the USDA’s specialty crops inspection program and services.  By soliciting ideas on ways we can adapt our service offerings, enhance our technology, strengthen our financial position, and improve our staffing efficiencies, SCI will continue to adapt to the industry’s needs.

Our initial virtual meeting with industry leadership identified both strengths and weaknesses of the program.  Open and frank discussions acknowledged assets we should preserve and protect, and services we should not change.   At the same time, we discussed the challenges to develop more efficient business processes and services to keep SCI nimble and responsive to the ever-changing needs of the produce industry.  Future meetings will focus on identifying opportunities and threats to the produce industry and ways to strengthen and enhance the SCI program and services to respond to these challenges. 

In this issue of the newsletter, we highlight a few unique programs and services that are important this holiday season to specific specialty crops industries. We also feature an article outlining the USDA AMS recruitment efforts, introducing you to a recent intern’s experience in our Marketing Order and Agreement Division (MOAD).  Finally, you’ll learn about how USDA’s Good Agricultural Program (GAP) helped overcome a challenge in the tea industry. 

On behalf of all SCP employees, allow me to extend to you best wishes for a happy holiday season and our sincere thanks for allowing us to be of assistance in 2017.  

This is What we Do!

Cranberries, Christmas Trees and Presents

Peter Wood, Abigail Campos, & Jen Dougherty

Happy Holidays!  Did you know AMS Specialty Crops Program (SCP) provides many services that help make your holidays special?  The folks at SCP serve a very diverse customer base. Find out who we serve from paper and packaging industry to cranberries producers to Christmas trees growers.

Who We Serve

Ensuring Quality Service for All of the Specialty Crops Industry: USDA Adds GAP for Tea

Jen Dougherty
Specialty Crops Inspection 

In March 2017, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce reached out to AMS’s Specialty Crops Program on behalf of JD Farms, of Poplarville, Miss., the parent company of Pearl River Tea. MDAC staff wanted to know if the agency could perform a USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audit on fresh tea leaves, a first for AMS.

SCP supports producers of agricultural products from almonds to Christmas trees and lumber to zucchini with a variety of services that help ensure the quality of crops and help farmers get their crops to market. GAP is a voluntary program offered to the fruit and vegetable industry that verifies the participant has taken proactive measures to reduce the risk of contamination by adhering to generally recognized industry best practices.

Learn More

One of the owners of Pearl River Tea

Photo Caption: Don Van de Werken, one of the owners of Pearl River Tea, inspects the tea producing Camellia Sinensis bushes on JD Farms to determine if they are ready to harvest.

AMS’s Recruitment Strategy to Hire Top Diverse Talent

Karen Comfort
Deputy Associate Administrator

AMS strategically positions itself to compete in the job market for the best, brightest and most diverse talent.  AMS’s senior leadership understands the key to hiring top diverse talent is strategically influencing the applicant pool for the Agency’s job opportunities.  As a result, AMS has done a number of things well and has started to receive the fruits of its labor. 

In 2015, AMS started holding Pathways Programs Onsite Application Acceptance Recruitment Events at a variety of institutions, including Minority Serving Institutions. This allowed us to take on-the-spot application packages for AMS job opportunities, and interview and select candidates in as little as two weeks.  Under the USDA Pathways Programs, Federal agencies recruit students under the Internship, Recent Graduate, or President Management Fellowship Program. We have also seen a significant increase in students attending our events in large part due to our outreach efforts using Twitter and Facebook. 

In 2016, AMS completed two important initiatives. It rolled out its Agricultural Commodity Grader (ACG) Apprenticeship Program, providing 12 months of training and development in a mission-critical AMS occupation and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Gallaudet University to increase the number of qualified college graduates, including individuals with disabilities, who apply for full-time employment and internships with AMS. 

In 2017, AMS increased the number of summer interns acquired through third-party organizations such as the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

In 2018, AMS will enter into two new cooperative relationships -- one with the Tribal Colleges and Universities in the Southwest, and the other with California State Polytechnic University Pomona.  AMS is committed to these efforts as part of our ongoing strategy to identify, recruit and hire top, diverse talent to help fulfill the Agency’s mission and to serve our industry partners, stakeholders and the public.