Specialty Crops Newsletter | May 2023

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USDA AMS Specialty crops newsletter email banner. Left to Right. Image 1 variety garden vegetables, Image 2 variety whole fruits, Image 3 Mixed Nuts

MAY 2023

A Message to Our Industry Partners

Chris Purdy

Hello. I am Christopher Purdy – the new Deputy Administrator of AMS' Specialty Crops Program (SCP). 

I started with AMS-SCP in 2007, when it was the Fruit and Vegetable Program under Bob Keeney.  Back then, Bob and Bruce Summers (now our current AMS Administrator) hired me to help the Program continue to innovate and increase the awareness of our services.  Roughly 16 years later, we are continuing that work today.

Our Future

USDA is no different than other organizations that are modernizing to be more data-driven and customer-focused. AMS is continuously evaluating our services to ensure we are supporting the industry in the most efficient way. We are experiencing tremendous growth, with lots of great things happening across AMS.

Simultaneously, we are also experiencing significant challenges as we adapt to changing business environments.  As you know, most of the Specialty Crops Program's operating revenue is derived from user fees generated by inspections and audits.  As we (Specialty Crops) secure our future and take advantage of technological resources, it is critical that we invest our time, maintain satisfactory fiscal reserves, and implement sound operational processes.

User Fee Update

AMS Specialty Crops Program rates for inspection and audit services will be adjusted on October 1, 2023. A notice on the rate modification is planned to be published in the Federal Register before June 1, 2023.

AMS is required to charge user-fee customers a rate that covers all expenses for providing services and maintaining sufficient reserve balances. Most AMS services are voluntary and, as a result, we must ensure our services stay relevant to what the produce industry needs.  We would love to hear your ideas for enhancements or new services that might help meet your business needs.   

Leadership Team

Besides myself, we have a new but very experienced Specialty Crops leadership team in place – which comprises:

Program Senior Leaders 

  • Heather Pichelman, Associate Deputy Administrator
  • Ken Petersen, Associate Deputy Administrator

Division Senior Leaders 

  • Michelle Sharrow, Director of Market Development
  • Ryan Wilson | Director of Specialty Crops Inspection
  • John Okoniewski | Director of SC Market News

Our doors are always open for you, virtually and in-person.  Contact me at christopher.purdy@usda.gov if you would like to pay us a visit.

Contact Information

Service Updates from Specialty Crops Executives

Specialty Crops Deputy Administrator Heather Pichelman

Enhancing Hemp Program Technology, Resources

Heather Pichelman | Associate Deputy Administrator

System Enhancements - HeLP (Hemp e-Learning Platform)

USDA launched the Hemp eManagement Platform (HeMP) for USDA producers, states, tribes, testing laboratories, and sampling Agents. Managed by the Specialty Crops Program (SCP), HeMP is a secure, online system used to manage and submit hemp information and mandatory reporting to USDA, replacing the need to submit via email, mail, or fax.

With the Hemp eManagement Platform complete, the AMS Specialty Crops hemp team (housed under our Market Development Division) has pivoted, working on enhancements to other facets of managing domestic hemp production. The team, housed under the Market Development Division, developed and launched the Hemp e-Learning Platform (“HeLP”) to assist industry members, sampling agents, USDA Farm Service Agency staff and hemp-testing laboratories in learning information regarding regulations and best practices for acreage reporting and testing hemp samples. 

Our hemp staff also released the HeLP promotional welcome video. The video is an introduction for stakeholders to the learning platform, topics, and the purpose of the learning platform. The video also provides a brief regulatory history of the plant, and its many horticultural uses.

HeLP System Graphic

System Enhancements - Hemp Public Search Tool

The MDD Hemp team also launched a tool that allows the public to search for USDA licensed hemp producers by geographic location.  The public search tool is active and easily accessible on the AMS Hemp Website. With this new search tool, the public can access information regarding a business license name, license number, licensee status, and state/or tribal jurisdiction.  It also increases public transparency by providing active information that may be useful for banks, law enforcement, hemp producers and other stakeholders. 

It's worth noting that to produce hemp, you first need to be licensed or authorized under a State hemp program, a Tribal hemp program, or the USDA hemp program.  The program you are licensed under depends on the location of your hemp growing facility.

Our staff who support the U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program can help address your questions at (888) 721 HEMP(4367) or farmbill.hemp@usda.gov.

Hemp FAQs

Ken Petersen

Supporting Our Tribal, Humanitarian Communities

Ken Petersen | Associate Deputy Administrator

Pilot Inspection Program Ensures High Quality Produce

The Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) helps ensure Tribal communities and schools receive high quality USDA fruits and vegetables. In collaboration with the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), SCI designed and implemented a pilot program to inspect produce destined for Tribal recipients. Using USDA inspection procedure, we inspect a specific percentage of orders on a timeframe determined by FNS. The SCI team will issue a USDA certificate for each inspected load.

The positive impact of SCI’s expert inspection services led the pilot program to expand in scope. Originally slated to be implemented with three vendors in four states, the pilot has expanded to nine vendors in seven states. To date, SCI has inspected more than 140 orders of product at facilities in California, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Texas. We are proud to help ensure Tribal communities and schools receive only the highest quality fruits and vegetables from USDA.

Tribal Pilot Collage

Specialty Crop Supports Humanitarian Aid Efforts 

Each year, USAID feeds some 60 million hungry people in 60 countries and the Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) is honored to support that mission. USAID is the world's largest single donor of international food assistance.

In 2016, SCI started the USAID verification program that confirms humanitarian aid suppliers’ compliance with legal requirements and monitors supplier participation in USAID programs. SCI provides inspection and audit services at processing plants across the country that produce those specialized foods distributed by USAID - including Ready-to-Use Supplementary and Therapeutic Food, and fortified cereal and cookies.

USAID requested SCI expand its verification services, which will include both USAID-contracted domestic warehouses and non-domestic warehouses maintained by the World Food Program. SCI also added fortified rice to the list of audited commodities. To date, SCI has completed USAID audits in Missouri, Illinois, and North Carolina for foods that are delivered around the world by USAID partners, with more audits scheduled for the remainder of this year. We are proud to partner with USAID to provide life-saving food assistance to those most vulnerable around the globe, and to reduce hunger and malnutrition by providing safe and nutritious food. 

ICYMI: Specialty Crops Purchase Announcements

AMS notifies industry and stakeholders of new opportunities by issuing Purchase Program Announcements throughout the year. Announcements are also posted to www.fbo.gov. Approved USDA Vendors and awards of purchase contracts are available on the Solicitations & Awards page.

Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Rule

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) published the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule. This update to the USDA organic regulations strengthens oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic products. This final rule implements 2018 Farm Bill mandates, responds to industry requests for updates to the USDA organic regulations, and addresses National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendations.


What does the rule do?

SOE protects organic integrity and bolsters farmer and consumer confidence in the USDA organic seal by supporting strong organic control systems, improving farm to market traceability, increasing import oversight authority, and providing robust enforcement of the organic regulations.

Who is affected?

The rule may affect USDA-accredited certifying agents; organic inspectors; certified organic operations; operations considering organic certification; businesses that import or trade organic products; and retailers that sell organic products.

When must organic operations comply with the rule?

Organic operations, certifying agents, and other organic stakeholders must comply with the final rule 14 months after publication: March 19, 2024.

 Rule Fact Sheet

New App Supports Perishable Transport


FoodTransport, a free new app from University of Florida postharvest experts, provides brief but authoritative recommendations for shipping perishable foods via truck or rail. The app – which would be useful to the specialty crops industry – is funded through a cooperative agreement via the AMS Transportation and Marketing Program.


The user-friendly app is the next step in a years-long project that started in 2017 when the UF/IFAS scientists began working to revise and digitize a USDA handbook last updated in 1995.That work resulted in an extensive smart document for food transportation industry professionals, “Protecting Perishable Foods During Transport by Truck and Rail,” and was completed in 2019. It serves as the source material for the new app.

The app is categorized by commodity type: fruits and vegetables, canned foods, dairy products, meat and seafood, and poultry and eggs. Food safety considerations are also featured.

The FoodTransport app is available on Google Play and the Apple App Store. (When searching, note that the name is one word.) It also works from a web browser at foodtransport.ifas.ufl.edu.

Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee

The USDA Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee began their collaborative evaluation of USDA programs and services via a two-day, in-person meeting held on April 19-20. The pandemic prevented face-to-face engagement since 2019.

FVIAC Group Photo 2

FVIAC Executive Board Collage

The meeting was convened to examine the full spectrum of fruit and vegetable industry issues and share ideas on how USDA can tailor programs and services to better meet the needs of the U.S. produce industry. 

The FVIAC is steered by executive officers – Kay Swartz-Rentzel, Chair (left); Reginald Marshall, Vice Chair (top-right); and Angel Santiago, Secretary (bottom-right). The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) asked the advisory representatives to specifically evaluate ways to enhance Specialty Crops’ technology offering and the data collection efforts of SCP inspection and market news offerings. We look forward to receiving those valuable insights! 

FAC members throughout the meeting.

ICYMI: Watch Specialty Crops Market News Webinars

Learn all about USDA’s Specialty Crops Market News through our webinar series!

USDA Market News App

The free app is available in both iOS and Android versions and may be downloaded through the Apple and Google Play stores.