Specialty Crops Newsletter | September 2023

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September 2023

A Message to Our Industry Partners

From the Specialty Crops Program (SCP)

Chris Purdy 2

Deputy Administrator,

Christopher Purdy

It has been a few months since we sent you a note and we would like to share some helpful information via our revised stakeholder newsletter, The Specialty Crops Standard.  We hope you find it to be useful and informative!

SCP has a wealth of knowledge about our programs and services that we would like to share with you. This newsletter will make it easier to learn about the services we offer and make it easier to locate information by providing direct links to our webpages. This edition provides information on accessing our resources, customized services we offer, and our outreach efforts.

Regarding outreach, along with my Associate Deputy Administrators Heather Pichelman and Ken Petersen, I am excited to participate in the International Fresh Produce Association’s (IFPA) Global Produce & Floral Show in Anaheim, Calif. this October.  We will have service specialists from our inspection and grading, auditing, Market News, Marketing Order and Research and Promotion Programs.  Colleagues from the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) Division and the Commodity Procurement Program will also be available to answer your questions.  Feel free to stop by the USDA AMS booth #2535.

Also, our doors are always open to you!  If you would like to visit with us in-person or virtually please contact me.  We look forward to seeing you at IFPA.


MN Mobile App

SCP Service at Your Fingertips

Learn how to set up the Market News app to start receiving reports right to your mobile device.

Watch the video

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

SCI Inspector

Inspection Services Designed to Your Needs

By Bill Madara, Eastern Operations Branch Chief

In addition to providing traditional inspection services for the fruit and vegetable industry, SCI is very fortunate to have the flexibility to customize and enhance inspection services to meet customers’ needs in today’s supply chain. SCI can craft a customized inspection service tailored to our customers’ contract specifications, internal quality control processes, internal quality standards, or outbound orders to your customers.

The SCI Quality Monitoring Program (QMP) is the foundation for many of our customized services and provides SCI the flexibility to offer tailor-made inspection services. We can provide unique and custom inspection solutions under our established QMP guidelines. We have provided ongoing, long-term, customized services to multiple applicants and for individual inspections. Internally, SCI has also provided customized services to the Federal Grain Inspection Service, Food and Nutrition Service, Defense Logistics Agency, and Commodity Procurement.

An example of a frequently requested customized service is, to have SCI conduct inspections to the customer’s specific requirements, which may not always coincide with U.S. Grade Standards. We can very easily perform these additional evaluations, and usually at no extra time or cost. We also work on long-term projects with customers. For example, we are working with a nationwide food distributor to provide inspections based on their specified contract requirements. After meeting with SCI to fully explain what evaluations and reporting would benefit them, they provided us with their contract specifications for each commodity they receive, and SCI created and implemented a customized inspection process. SCI is now providing these customized inspection services regularly.

These are just a few ways that SCI can customize services to help our applicants solve problems and enhance their operation’s internal processes and service delivery to their customers.

If you are interested in discussing customized inspection services, please get in touch with SCI at 1-800- 560-7956 (selecting option 8) or send an email to SCIinspectionoperations@usda.gov.

Para leer el artículo en Español

Lime Day

Lime Training Day

By Harry Fisher, Office of the Deputy Administrator

On August 4, 2023, The Texas International Produce Association (TIPA) hosted a “Lime Grades & Standards Training Day” in Pharr, Texas. Specialty Federal Program Managers, a Standardization Specialist and a Market News Reporter joined the Texas Cooperative Inspection Program (TCIP) to engage with lime growers, shippers, distributors, packers, and warehouse operators, many of them from Mexico. This was a free training event to help the lime industry better understand the USDA guidelines of grading, lime standards and market news lime reporting.

The event included a live grading demo, a Q&A session offered in both English in Spanish, and visits to local warehouses where attendees were able to see the difference between yellowing and blanching on limes under various lighting, including bright sunlight!

Industry members who attended this event were pleased and appreciative of the insight and training provided by TCIP and SCP.

To discuss fruit and vegetable training options tailored to your local needs contact the Specialty Crops Inspection Training and Development Branch at 540-361-1120 or scitrainingbranch@usda.gov.

Tom Lister

Market News Reporting with You

By Tom Lister, Market News Reporter

The valuable movement and pricing information within our Market News reports are made possible through collaboration among reporters and industry representatives. Market News reporter Tom Lister, from our Phoenix office, began his career as a terminal market reporter, later covering shipping point as the West Mexico vegetable reporter, and currently covers berry markets. He shares his insights into what matters most to make this collaboration successful.

Everyone matters. On terminal markets, I focused on developing relationships with salesmen but also relied on sales assistants, brokers, and buyers to provide valuable insight and shipment information. I learned to read tones of voice and body language when approaching sales staff and the importance of making connections mutually beneficial by sharing insight from our many reports. I went beyond sales displays to check inventories inside warehouses each day. This helped me develop ties with warehouse employees and foremen, who in turn let me know when new items arrived.

Being creative matters. I often reach out to my sources by phone, email, and text. I also routinely visit with USDA inspectors for their insights and perspectives. Often, I learn about market conditions simply by observing transactions occurring around me in both English and Spanish.

Relating on a personal level matters. While working in our New York office, I would keep up on current events to get conversations started. Most mornings, I read the New York Post on the train on my way to the market and got to know what the vibe of everyone’s chatter would be that day. I listened the stories salesmen would share about their lives outside the market and committed the stories to memory. All of this helped create ease and trust between myself and my sources, which lead to open sharing of pricing and conditions.

The right attitude matters. I learned early on in my career that being positive and polite matters. I always thank my sources for information and reciprocate by sharing my perspective and helping them find information they might need from the Specialty Crops Market News portal. Establishing yourself as a market reporter can be challenging, especially for rookie reporters on terminal markets. While most sources were exceptionally friendly to a Midwestern kid like me, others needed time to get to know me while I just kept taking notes and continued to ask questions relevant to markets. With time, I got their respect and trust.

Collecting accurate information for our Market News reports is important and being inclusive, creative, relatable, and having the right attitude makes all the difference.


How to Request Changes to U.S. Grade Standards

Is there a U.S. Grade Standard you think needs an update? You can request changes through the SCI Division Standardization Branch which is responsible for developing and revising grade standards.

There are several important stages in the process of developing or revising U.S. grade standards:

  • Discussion draft
  • Rulemaking
  • Final action

For more information on the process and how to request changes, see our Standards Fact Sheet. Our specialists are available to answer questions by email at scistandards@usda.gov.

Para leer el artículo en Español


Ease of E-Balloting

By Andy Hatch, Deputy Director & George Webster, Marketing Specialist

Input from producers and other industry members has always been the foundation for federal marketing orders and generic research and promotion programs.

“Receiving completed ballots during voting periods helps AMS determine the path forward in the partnerships we maintain with nearly 40 industry boards, committees, and councils established under federal law,” said Chris Purdy, Deputy Administrator of AMS’s Specialty Crops Program.

AMS conducts referenda when creating new marketing orders and research and promotion programs, amending existing ones, and determining whether to keep current programs in place. Votes cast show the level of industry support for or opposition to the measure at hand. To continuously increase voter turnout, AMS has employed an electronic balloting option for referendum voting.

“AMS continues to provide voters with paper ballots to complete and mail back to our office during voting periods,” said Michelle Sharrow, Director of the Specialty Crops Program’s Market Development Division, which conducts nearly a half dozen referenda each year. “Voters also have the option to submit an e-ballot which helps streamlines the voting process.”

AMS began providing the e-ballot option for research and promotion board referenda back in 2017, and in the past year has been used for marketing orders. The agency has seen encouraging results by enabling industry members to vote in referenda via their smartphone, tablet, or computer.

When announcing upcoming votes, AMS publishes a notice in the Federal Register, providing details on the purpose of the referendum, the dates by which voters need to return completed ballots, and whether voters can choose to submit paper ballots or use the e-ballot option. Instructions that accompany the paper ballot that all voters of record receive provide additional details on how to cast their ballots electronically. Completing the ballot is as simple as confirming the accuracy of information sent to the respondent, voting on whether they favor continuance of the program or not, then electronically signing the ballot.

All responses are immediate. AMS downloads the responses after the voting period for review and tabulation. Security settings are also available to ensure that each eligible respondent votes once, and that no votes are received prior to or after the voting period.

Industry members have received This e-balloting system positively, and AMS looks to continue optimizing the referenda voting process.

Para leer el artículo en Español

FVIAC 2023

Fruit & Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee Working for You

Originally chartered in 2001, the Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee (FVIAC) examines the full spectrum of fruit, vegetable, and specialty crop issues to provide suggestions on how the USDA can tailor its programs and services to meet the industry’s needs. The discussions between industry representatives and USDA results in an improved understanding of the impact of USDA programs on the industry.

Committee members represent organic and non-organic growers, shippers, wholesalers, retailers, industry trade associations, importers, processors, foodservice suppliers, food brokers, state departments of agriculture and farmers markets on local, regional, and national levels. Members with diverse backgrounds provide balance to the committee and represent the segments of the population from which they were selected.

All formal committee meetings are open to the public. The agendas include consideration of recommendations pertaining to areas such as labor and production, food safety, infrastructure and sustainability, consumption and nutrition, and data reporting and analysis.

USDA has requested FVIAC representatives to evaluate ways to enhance the Specialty Crops Program’s (SCP) technology offering and optimize data collection efforts of SCP’s Inspection and Market News Divisions. The next FVIAC meeting is scheduled to start November 2, 2023. The  meeting notice was published in the Federal Register. Through this notice, AMS provides an opportunity for written and oral public comment on issues affecting the fruit and vegetable industry.  Additional information regarding the November meeting can be found here

To learn more about the committee, visit the FVIAC website: Fruit and Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee.


SCP Newsletter Archives at Your Fingertips

By:  Dana N. White, Office of the Deputy Administrator

Have you missed a past edition of the SCP Newsletter? No need to worry; you can easily navigate the SCP newsletter archives website to find the issue you need. Our website has been updated to show new content summaries for each issue. The summaries describe the articles in the issue. This a helpful way to stay in the know. To access the SCP newsletter archives click the following link: Specialty Crops Program Newsletter | Agricultural Marketing Service (usda.gov)

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