Specialty Crops Program Newsletter - July 2022

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agriculture marketing service
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USDA AMS Specialty Crops Newsletter  |  July 2022

A Message to Our Industry Partners

Fostering Agricultural Innovation 

Heather Pichelman, Acting Deputy Administrator of the AMS Specialty Crops Program

Heather Pichelman

The fostering of agricultural innovation is vital. For USDA, this means (among others) providing tools to help producers, and others in the ag supply chain to identify those market opportunities and respond to changing market conditions.

We launched the first version of the free Market News app in February 2022. The latest updated version of the app includes market reports for conventional and organic dairy, cotton, and specialty crop commodities.

The Market News App means you can truly have the critical market data you need at your fingertips in an instant to help you make informed marketing decisions to get the most value for your products. Even more, the upgrade provides the ability to search for markets based on your location, by state, or by commodity.


There are both iOS and Android versions available to download through the Apple and Google Play stores. Search for “USDA Market News Mobile Application” to download the app and begin exploring its potential.

My Market News (MARS) | How It Works

Market News reporters collect agricultural market information from sources across the supply chain and enter the data into MARS for review and analysis. The current and historical data is through its public-facing website, My Market News.

My Market News improves the quality, customization, and accessibility of Market News data. It gives you faster and greater access to detailed datasets and reports in one easy-to-use tool. My Market News provides endless opportunities for data analysis.

Key Features:

  • Public Data – Instant access to qualitative data in a searchable database. You can fine-tune the data to compare price and volume trends over time from region-to-region, and then you can download the customized dataset.
  • Standard Reports – Access standard reports that so many in the industry rely upon. The reports are designed for simplicity with a focus on data. You can now pull current and historical data from a report simultaneously, and easily download the customized data directly into Excel.
  • Application Programming Interface (API) – Use the API for gathering large datasets. After an initial setup, the API allows you to automatically download large amounts of data in custom formats.

Quick Access | Market News Portal

USDA Announces Dates for the South Texas Onion Continuance Referendum


The U.S. Department of Agriculture will conduct a referendum Sept. 1 through Oct. 3, 2022, for South Texas onion producers to vote on whether to continue their federal marketing order. Producers who produced onions within South Texas during the period of Aug. 1, 2020, through July 31, 2021, are eligible to vote. Notice of the referendum was published in the Federal Register on July 8, 2022.

USDA will consider continuing the marketing order if two-thirds or more of producers voting in the referendum, or producers representing two-thirds or more of the volume of Texas onions, vote in favor. Eligible producers who do not receive a ballot by September 1, 2022, should contact Abigail Maharaj at Abigail.Campos@usda.gov or by phone at (863) 324-2145. Requests for a ballot may also be faxed to (863) 291-8614 or mailed to USDA, AMS, 1124 First Street South; Winter Haven, Fla., 33880.

More information about the marketing order regulating the handling of South Texas onions is available on the 959 South Texas Onions webpage.

Specialty Crops on the Road


AMS Administrator Bruce Summers (center) gave remarks before the National Onion Association Summer Convention in Idaho. Mick Davie (left) of SCP Market News and Greg McNair (right) of SCP Inspection Division attended an onion industry tour on July 8. 

Specialty Crops staff visited the Port of Philadelphia in May 2022 reviewing 8e inspections of table grapes. From left to right: Sonya Wilson, Assistant Branch Chief SCI Eastern Region; Ken Petersen, SCP Deputy Administrators Office; Bill Madera, Branch Chief SCI Eastern Region; and Jessica Brower, SCI Associate Director of Field Operations.


Steve Aguino

Steve Aguino – SCP Inspection Federal Program Manager – speaking at the Fresh Produce Association of Americas Spring Meeting in Nogales, Arizona

Heather Pichelman (center) from the SCP Deputy Administrators Office observes a dates inspection. Left is Akil Williams, Agricultural Commodity Technician and Cecilia Fregoso, Acting Inspector in Charge of the Indio Field Office is on the right.


  USDA Food Safety Cost Share Program


USDA Farm Service Agency has launched the Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops (FSCSC) Program, a new cost share program that provides financial assistance for specialty crop operations that incur eligible on-farm food safety program expenses related to obtaining or renewing a food safety certification in calendar years i2022 or 2023. To receive the financial assistance, the following eligibility requirements (among others) are required: have obtained or renewed a 2022 food safety certification that was issued between June 21, 2022, and December 31, 2022; have paid eligible expenses; be a specialty crop operation; and meet the definition of a small business or very small business; and be located in the 50 United States or U.S. territories.

Costs covered by the program include:

  • Developing a food safety plan for first-time food safety certification
  • Maintaining or updating an existing food safety plan
  • Food safety certification (audit) costs
  • Microbiological testing for water, soil/amendments, and products
  • Food safety training
  • Certification upload fees

Learn More: FSC Specialty Crops

New Vendor Outreach: Quarterly Webinars and Workshops

Biz Op Graphic

The Commodity Procurement Program (CPP) has ramped up its outreach efforts to interest firms of all sizes in selling U.S. produced agricultural commodities to the USDA.  As a result, CPP is hosting live, interactive quarterly webinars to help increase new vendor outreach, engagement and share some best practices. They include lessons learned in becoming an approved USDA food vendor, tips about registering in the System for Award Management (SAM), a guided tour of the CPP websites as well as frequently asked questions. If you are interested in watching one of our webinars, please go to our website .

There are currently many opportunities to purchase fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  You can find these opportunities on our website.  If you have questions or need additional assistance you can email us at Newvendor@usda.gov.

Become a USDA Approved Vendor

Below are six recommended steps for becoming a USDA approved vendor.  

STEP 1: Stay informed by subscribing & registering.

Subscribe to the AMS CP News to receive email notification of solicitations and awards.

STEP 2: Understand the Master Solicitations.

Review the Master Solicitation for Commodity Procurement (pdf) to understand the federal regulations, clauses, and provisions that affect USDA commodity contracts.

STEP 3: Review the current purchase schedule & understand the purchase process.

Read through the list of current and past solicitations and award information. Also, read How the Process Works.

STEP 4: Review USDA commodity specifications and technical requirements. 

These specifications and supplemental documents explain the production and processing requirements for USDA Foods. Product Specifications & Technical Requirements

STEP 5: Learn the qualification requirements for being a vendor.

New Vendor Qualification Requirements (pdf)

STEP 6: Submit a Vendor Application Package.

New Vendor Qualification Requirements (pdf)


Welcome Aboard | Specialty Crops Leaders

Michelle Sharrow

Michelle Sharrow is the new Director of the Market Development Division (MDD) in AMS' Specialty Crops Program.

Michelle is an AMS alum and we are excited to welcome her back.  She was the Marketing Order and Agreement Division (MOAD) Rulemaking Branch Chief from 2013-2016, and MOAD Deputy Director from 2016-2018. Michelle was also Acting MOAD Director for eight months in 2017.  Since 2018, Michelle has been at the U.S. Department of Interior—most recently as Deputy Director for Operations of the Departmental Ethics Office, and prior to that, Deputy Ethics Counselor at the Bureau of Land Management.  Michelle’s experience in MOAD means she is familiar with a large portion of the work that continues in MDD, including rulemaking, the creation of new programs, and analysis of legislation, regulations, and agency guidelines applicable to MDD’s programs.  During her time at AMS, she was also able to work on collaborative efforts through the R&P/Marketing Order Functional Committee.

Michelle has a Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness from South Carolina State University and a Master of Business Administration in Finance from Johns Hopkins University.

John Okoniewski

John Okoniewski is the new Director of the Market News Division (SCMN) in AMS’ Specialty Crops Program.

John has spent his entire 37-year career with AMS Specialty Crops Market News. He started as a Market News reporter trainee in the Bronx NY office in 1985, and trained as a shipping point reporter in Benton Harbor, MI. After training he was stationed in Philadelphia for a short time, became the OIC in Waldon, NY, returned to Philadelphia as the Assistant OIC and became the OIC in Detroit for 4 years. John did relief assignments in wholesale markets around the country. He came to headquarters in 1992 to establish the International Reports Section, was promoted to the National Market Reports Section Head and selected as the Deputy Director in 1999. John has led numerous technical assistance projects establishing market information systems internationally and served as project manager for the Market News web portal that went live in 2005. 

John has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture from the University of Delaware and a Certificate in Public Leadership from the Brookings Institution.

$9.98 Million in Grants Awarded to Strengthen Specialty Crop Industry

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)  has awarded $9.98 million to 14 collaborative, multi-state projects impacting 28 states to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. specialty crops. The funding is made possible through the Specialty Crop Multi-State Program (SCMP), reauthorized by the 2018 Farm Bill.

SCMP strengthens food safety; seeks new ways to address plant pests, disease, and other crop-specific issues; and increases marketing opportunities for specialty crops—fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and dried fruits to horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

Funding is awarded competitively to state departments of agriculture that partner with stakeholder organizations in two or more states. In this FY 2022 cycle, USDA received 79 applications and funded 14 projects. 

Grant Funding Opportunities