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Western winter vegetable supplies — late, light and expensive

It appears as if the winter vegetable deal from the California and Arizona desert may be one for the ages. Decreased production in the shoulder deal from Huron in California’s San Joaquin Valley promises to get the winter deal off to a fast start in terms of pricing. Throw in weather issues that have generally decreased winter vegetable volume across the board and “demand exceeds supply” could well be the mantra for the next couple of months.

Salinas, CA-based Tanimura & Antle, one of the nation’s leading vegetable suppliers, puts out a newsletter every few weeks forecasting supplies for the following three weeks. The firm’s forecast for the three weeks prior to Thanksgiving succinctly echoes the comments that are being uttered by growers and shippers throughout the West.

broccoli-side1Cauliflower, broccoli and celery are some of the myriad of winter desert vegetables grown in California and Arizona each year.“Salinas is melting and rain is forecasted for this weekend,” said the newsletter released on the last day of October. “Shippers expecting their desert deals to come in early and save the day will be quickly disappointed.”

There were several late summer storms that came roaring up from the Pacific Ocean through Baja California and into the California and Arizona deserts. These heavy rains during the planting season have caused the winter deal to be a bit late and with lighter supplies than usual. The T&A newsletter warns that “customers are going to have to be flexible and accept less than perfect product or run the risk of being short this Thanksgiving season.”

Mike Aiton, marketing manager for Prime Time Sales in Coachella, CA, which has winter deals in Baja California, mainland Mexico and Coachella, confirmed that supplies of the company’s top product — colored peppers — as well as tomatoes and a number of vegetable items are going to be short throughout November and even deep into December.

While he expected green Bell peppers to reach normal supply levels in early December, Aiton said the colored peppers and the popular minis won’t see volume return until early January.

Douglas Schaefer, president of EJ’s Produce Sales Inc. in Phoenix, told The Produce News on Wednesday, Oct. 29, that a very difficult situation was brewing.

“Salinas is about finished. Yields from Huron are off and Yuma is late. Strap on your boots and fasten your seat belts,” he said, indicating that a wild ride is in the works.

Schaefer said the August and September rains in Arizona greatly affected planting schedules and threw everyone off. “It’s all because of H20.”

T&A had a similar assessment.

“The California drought is a reality and we are only starting to see the challenges associated with it,” reported the T&A Straight Talk newsletter. “Whether it is the lack of water or the quality of water is diminished, our sizing and plant population in Huron is subpar, but at least we have a deal there.”

The last comment was in reference to the significant decrease in production that has occurred in Huron in recent years, largely because of lack of water. It is this lack of lettuce and other vegetable production during the pre-Thanksgiving period when demand is high that is setting the winter deal up for a very hot market.

On Monday, Oct. 27, the Iceberg lettuce market hit $ 20 f.o.b. Four days later, the federal Market News report put the Iceberg lettuce price at about $ 25 per carton and heading north. This year, the Thanksgiving demand was expected to kick in around Nov. 11 and last for 10-12 days.

Forecasting that time period, T&A believes Huron will be winding down and Yuma will be just getting under way. The company expects about 90 percent of its budgeted volume. In a very understated way, the newsletter states that the “market will remain strong.”

Mark McBride of Coastline in Salinas called the next couple of months “a very challenging situation.” He acknowledged being “old school” and said he is fearful that short supplies could lead to very high prices that would then choke off demand. But he said the short supply situation on lettuce is not going away until after Thanksgiving and possibly after Christmas.

Some other crops, such as broccoli and cauliflower, appear to be in better shape, but celery is also expected to be in short supply.

Come Thanksgiving, tables will be set and vegetables will be served. So whatever is in relatively good supply with reasonable prices will see big demand, which will also affect the post-Thanksgiving period.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Western winter vegetable supplies — late, light and expensive

It appears as if the winter vegetable deal from the California and Arizona desert may be one for the ages. Decreased production in the shoulder deal from Huron in California’s San Joaquin Valley promises to get the winter deal off to a fast start in terms of pricing. Throw in weather issues that have generally decreased winter vegetable volume across the board and “demand exceeds supply” could well be the mantra for the next couple of months.

Salinas, CA-based Tanimura & Antle, one of the nation’s leading vegetable suppliers, puts out a newsletter every few weeks forecasting supplies for the following three weeks. The firm’s forecast for the three weeks prior to Thanksgiving succinctly echoes the comments that are being uttered by growers and shippers throughout the West.

broccoli-side1Cauliflower, broccoli and celery are some of the myriad of winter desert vegetables grown in California and Arizona each year.“Salinas is melting and rain is forecasted for this weekend,” said the newsletter released on the last day of October. “Shippers expecting their desert deals to come in early and save the day will be quickly disappointed.”

There were several late summer storms that came roaring up from the Pacific Ocean through Baja California and into the California and Arizona deserts. These heavy rains during the planting season have caused the winter deal to be a bit late and with lighter supplies than usual. The T&A newsletter warns that “customers are going to have to be flexible and accept less than perfect product or run the risk of being short this Thanksgiving season.”

Mike Aiton, marketing manager for Prime Time Sales in Coachella, CA, which has winter deals in Baja California, mainland Mexico and Coachella, confirmed that supplies of the company’s top product — colored peppers — as well as tomatoes and a number of vegetable items are going to be short throughout November and even deep into December.

While he expected green Bell peppers to reach normal supply levels in early December, Aiton said the colored peppers and the popular minis won’t see volume return until early January.

Douglas Schaefer, president of EJ’s Produce Sales Inc. in Phoenix, told The Produce News on Wednesday, Oct. 29, that a very difficult situation was brewing.

“Salinas is about finished. Yields from Huron are off and Yuma is late. Strap on your boots and fasten your seat belts,” he said, indicating that a wild ride is in the works.

Schaefer said the August and September rains in Arizona greatly affected planting schedules and threw everyone off. “It’s all because of H20.”

T&A had a similar assessment.

“The California drought is a reality and we are only starting to see the challenges associated with it,” reported the T&A Straight Talk newsletter. “Whether it is the lack of water or the quality of water is diminished, our sizing and plant population in Huron is subpar, but at least we have a deal there.”

The last comment was in reference to the significant decrease in production that has occurred in Huron in recent years, largely because of lack of water. It is this lack of lettuce and other vegetable production during the pre-Thanksgiving period when demand is high that is setting the winter deal up for a very hot market.

On Monday, Oct. 27, the Iceberg lettuce market hit $ 20 f.o.b. Four days later, the federal Market News report put the Iceberg lettuce price at about $ 25 per carton and heading north. This year, the Thanksgiving demand was expected to kick in around Nov. 11 and last for 10-12 days.

Forecasting that time period, T&A believes Huron will be winding down and Yuma will be just getting under way. The company expects about 90 percent of its budgeted volume. In a very understated way, the newsletter states that the “market will remain strong.”

Mark McBride of Coastline in Salinas called the next couple of months “a very challenging situation.” He acknowledged being “old school” and said he is fearful that short supplies could lead to very high prices that would then choke off demand. But he said the short supply situation on lettuce is not going away until after Thanksgiving and possibly after Christmas.

Some other crops, such as broccoli and cauliflower, appear to be in better shape, but celery is also expected to be in short supply.

Come Thanksgiving, tables will be set and vegetables will be served. So whatever is in relatively good supply with reasonable prices will see big demand, which will also affect the post-Thanksgiving period.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Science casts light on sex in the orchard

Persimmons are among the small club of plants with separate sexes — individual trees are either male or female. Now scientists at the University of California, Davis, and Kyoto University in Japan have discovered how sex is determined in a species of persimmon, potentially opening up new possibilities in plant breeding. The work is published Oct. 31 in the journal Science.

Most plants have both male and female sex organs in the same individual. Some, like tomato, rice, beans and other cultivated species, cast pollen from male to female organs in the same flower. Others employ ingenious schemes to ensure that one individual pollinates the flower of another. Only about 5 percent of plant species have separate sexes, a condition called dioecy, or “two houses.”

“Think of it as nature’s best trick to ensure that reproduction involves two individuals, thus maximizing the mixing of genes. Persimmon, pistachio, wild grapevine, kiwi, hops, spinach and even marijuana are dioecious,” said Luca Comai, professor of plant biology at UC Davis and senior author on the paper.

In mammals, sex is determined by X and Y chromosomes: Males have an X and a Y; females have two X’s. A single gene on the Y is responsible for triggering the development of male traits. Most dioecious plants resemble the human system, with XY males and XX females. What gene may be responsible for determining plant sex has been a long-standing mystery.

Takashi Akagi, Isabelle Henry and Comai at UC Davis worked on a family of persimmon trees (Diospyros lotus) established by Ryutaro Tao at Kyoto University. They combed through the genomes of some of these trees looking for genes that were exclusive to males and found an unusual gene they called OGI (Japanese for male tree). Unlike most genes, OGI does not encode a protein, they found. Instead, it codes for a very small piece of RNA that acts as “molecular scissors,” cutting down expression of another gene, called MeGI (Japanese for female tree).

In females, MeGI builds to high level and acts like a neutering agent, repressing pollen formation. In males, OGI prevents accumulation of MeGI. Regulation by RNA scissors can be fickle, and this may help explain why plants that are genetically one sex but functionally another can arise in dioecious species.

Discovery of the OGI-MeGI system in persimmon provides a comparison for parallel studies in other dioecious plant species, Comai said.

“Because separate sexes evolved independently many times in plants, we can effectively replay the evolutionary game and ask whether plants invent different solutions to the same problem or whether the same regulatory system is recruited over and over,” he said.

The findings may also have practical applications.

“Separate sexes are the most effective way to produce plant hybrids, and hybrids are key to agricultural productivity,” said Henry. “In the future, we may be able to breed dioecy into new species and facilitate hybrid production through exploitation of a natural system.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Science casts light on sex in the orchard

Persimmons are among the small club of plants with separate sexes — individual trees are either male or female. Now scientists at the University of California, Davis, and Kyoto University in Japan have discovered how sex is determined in a species of persimmon, potentially opening up new possibilities in plant breeding. The work is published Oct. 31 in the journal Science.

Most plants have both male and female sex organs in the same individual. Some, like tomato, rice, beans and other cultivated species, cast pollen from male to female organs in the same flower. Others employ ingenious schemes to ensure that one individual pollinates the flower of another. Only about 5 percent of plant species have separate sexes, a condition called dioecy, or “two houses.”

“Think of it as nature’s best trick to ensure that reproduction involves two individuals, thus maximizing the mixing of genes. Persimmon, pistachio, wild grapevine, kiwi, hops, spinach and even marijuana are dioecious,” said Luca Comai, professor of plant biology at UC Davis and senior author on the paper.

In mammals, sex is determined by X and Y chromosomes: Males have an X and a Y; females have two X’s. A single gene on the Y is responsible for triggering the development of male traits. Most dioecious plants resemble the human system, with XY males and XX females. What gene may be responsible for determining plant sex has been a long-standing mystery.

Takashi Akagi, Isabelle Henry and Comai at UC Davis worked on a family of persimmon trees (Diospyros lotus) established by Ryutaro Tao at Kyoto University. They combed through the genomes of some of these trees looking for genes that were exclusive to males and found an unusual gene they called OGI (Japanese for male tree). Unlike most genes, OGI does not encode a protein, they found. Instead, it codes for a very small piece of RNA that acts as “molecular scissors,” cutting down expression of another gene, called MeGI (Japanese for female tree).

In females, MeGI builds to high level and acts like a neutering agent, repressing pollen formation. In males, OGI prevents accumulation of MeGI. Regulation by RNA scissors can be fickle, and this may help explain why plants that are genetically one sex but functionally another can arise in dioecious species.

Discovery of the OGI-MeGI system in persimmon provides a comparison for parallel studies in other dioecious plant species, Comai said.

“Because separate sexes evolved independently many times in plants, we can effectively replay the evolutionary game and ask whether plants invent different solutions to the same problem or whether the same regulatory system is recruited over and over,” he said.

The findings may also have practical applications.

“Separate sexes are the most effective way to produce plant hybrids, and hybrids are key to agricultural productivity,” said Henry. “In the future, we may be able to breed dioecy into new species and facilitate hybrid production through exploitation of a natural system.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Science casts light on sex in the orchard

Persimmons are among the small club of plants with separate sexes — individual trees are either male or female. Now scientists at the University of California, Davis, and Kyoto University in Japan have discovered how sex is determined in a species of persimmon, potentially opening up new possibilities in plant breeding. The work is published Oct. 31 in the journal Science.

Most plants have both male and female sex organs in the same individual. Some, like tomato, rice, beans and other cultivated species, cast pollen from male to female organs in the same flower. Others employ ingenious schemes to ensure that one individual pollinates the flower of another. Only about 5 percent of plant species have separate sexes, a condition called dioecy, or “two houses.”

“Think of it as nature’s best trick to ensure that reproduction involves two individuals, thus maximizing the mixing of genes. Persimmon, pistachio, wild grapevine, kiwi, hops, spinach and even marijuana are dioecious,” said Luca Comai, professor of plant biology at UC Davis and senior author on the paper.

In mammals, sex is determined by X and Y chromosomes: Males have an X and a Y; females have two X’s. A single gene on the Y is responsible for triggering the development of male traits. Most dioecious plants resemble the human system, with XY males and XX females. What gene may be responsible for determining plant sex has been a long-standing mystery.

Takashi Akagi, Isabelle Henry and Comai at UC Davis worked on a family of persimmon trees (Diospyros lotus) established by Ryutaro Tao at Kyoto University. They combed through the genomes of some of these trees looking for genes that were exclusive to males and found an unusual gene they called OGI (Japanese for male tree). Unlike most genes, OGI does not encode a protein, they found. Instead, it codes for a very small piece of RNA that acts as “molecular scissors,” cutting down expression of another gene, called MeGI (Japanese for female tree).

In females, MeGI builds to high level and acts like a neutering agent, repressing pollen formation. In males, OGI prevents accumulation of MeGI. Regulation by RNA scissors can be fickle, and this may help explain why plants that are genetically one sex but functionally another can arise in dioecious species.

Discovery of the OGI-MeGI system in persimmon provides a comparison for parallel studies in other dioecious plant species, Comai said.

“Because separate sexes evolved independently many times in plants, we can effectively replay the evolutionary game and ask whether plants invent different solutions to the same problem or whether the same regulatory system is recruited over and over,” he said.

The findings may also have practical applications.

“Separate sexes are the most effective way to produce plant hybrids, and hybrids are key to agricultural productivity,” said Henry. “In the future, we may be able to breed dioecy into new species and facilitate hybrid production through exploitation of a natural system.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Davis. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Normal California kiwifruit crop expected as light Chilean season wraps up

The board of directors of the California Kiwifruit Administrative Committee, in a meeting July 23, approved an estimate for the total volume of California kiwifruit expected to be marketed from the 2014 harvest in the range of 6.8 million to 7 million seven-pound tray equivalents.

In context, that would be considered “a normal production year,” according to Nick Matteis, assistant director of the committee.

The harvest is expected to start around the latter part of September, Matteis told The Produce News Sept. 10. That is “slightly early” compared to most years but nothing significant, he said. Shipments will continue into spring.05-Kiwi-OverviewA worker in a California kiwifruit vineyard empties a picking bag of freshly harvested fruit into a field bin.

The blooms were a week earlier than last year, “which would lead one to think we would be a week earlier on harvest,” Matteis said. However, he added that “a lot of growers are waiting for fruit to  mature a little bit more” before picking to get higher sugars and assure consumer satisfaction. The industry has minimum soluble solids requirements, and growers are permitted to harvest and ship when Brix reaches 6.2, but many growers prefer to wait until the Brix level is around 7 before picking, Matteis said.

Some packers also urge others to hold back on the harvest waiting for higher sugars, and they make “good points,” Matteis said. But “the regulations state you can ship” at 6.2, “so it is up to the packer to decide” what their own priorities are.

The crop is expected to start on a strong market, as Chilean imports during the summer have been lighter than usual due to a freeze.

Chile usually has “more significant volumes in the channels at the start of our season” than they do this year, Matteis said.

This year “it will be pretty well cleaned out, so by way of competition, it looks like everything is indicating that it should be a good marketing season in general.”

Some Italian kiwifruit will be coming into the market during the California season, mostly to the East Coast. Italy is also expected to have a normal crop this year.

There have been some questions as to whether the drought in California might affect the kiwifruit volume this year, Matteis said. The Kiwifruit Administrative Committee planned to take “another look” at the crop estimate about mid-September in the light of that concern to determine whether any adjustment in the  projection is merited, “but I haven’t heard of any significant reductions expected in volumes to date,” he said.

The primary function of the committee is to maintain grade and size standards, Matteis said. “However, we did just undergo a referendum, which passed,” to amend the federal marketing order and allow the committee to perform marketing and promotion activities “based on approval of a plan” for such activities by the board of directors. As of yet, no plan has been put forward.

Previously, marketing activities had been carried out by the California Kiwifruit Commission, but the commission  was discontinued in 2012 following a 2011 grower referendum in which we didn’t get enough votes to continue, by a very narrow margin,” Matteis said.

“Since we lost the commissions, we didn’t have that kind of function as an option for the industry,” he continued. Now, under the new amendment, the industry has the ability “to engage in that sort of activity to some extent through the committee” if the board so decides. “But currently we don’t have a formal program put together.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Normal California kiwifruit crop expected as light Chilean season wraps up

The board of directors of the California Kiwifruit Administrative Committee, in a meeting July 23, approved an estimate for the total volume of California kiwifruit expected to be marketed from the 2014 harvest in the range of 6.8 million to 7 million seven-pound tray equivalents.

In context, that would be considered “a normal production year,” according to Nick Matteis, assistant director of the committee.

The harvest is expected to start around the latter part of September, Matteis told The Produce News Sept. 10. That is “slightly early” compared to most years but nothing significant, he said. Shipments will continue into spring.05-Kiwi-OverviewA worker in a California kiwifruit vineyard empties a picking bag of freshly harvested fruit into a field bin.

The blooms were a week earlier than last year, “which would lead one to think we would be a week earlier on harvest,” Matteis said. However, he added that “a lot of growers are waiting for fruit to  mature a little bit more” before picking to get higher sugars and assure consumer satisfaction. The industry has minimum soluble solids requirements, and growers are permitted to harvest and ship when Brix reaches 6.2, but many growers prefer to wait until the Brix level is around 7 before picking, Matteis said.

Some packers also urge others to hold back on the harvest waiting for higher sugars, and they make “good points,” Matteis said. But “the regulations state you can ship” at 6.2, “so it is up to the packer to decide” what their own priorities are.

The crop is expected to start on a strong market, as Chilean imports during the summer have been lighter than usual due to a freeze.

Chile usually has “more significant volumes in the channels at the start of our season” than they do this year, Matteis said.

This year “it will be pretty well cleaned out, so by way of competition, it looks like everything is indicating that it should be a good marketing season in general.”

Some Italian kiwifruit will be coming into the market during the California season, mostly to the East Coast. Italy is also expected to have a normal crop this year.

There have been some questions as to whether the drought in California might affect the kiwifruit volume this year, Matteis said. The Kiwifruit Administrative Committee planned to take “another look” at the crop estimate about mid-September in the light of that concern to determine whether any adjustment in the  projection is merited, “but I haven’t heard of any significant reductions expected in volumes to date,” he said.

The primary function of the committee is to maintain grade and size standards, Matteis said. “However, we did just undergo a referendum, which passed,” to amend the federal marketing order and allow the committee to perform marketing and promotion activities “based on approval of a plan” for such activities by the board of directors. As of yet, no plan has been put forward.

Previously, marketing activities had been carried out by the California Kiwifruit Commission, but the commission  was discontinued in 2012 following a 2011 grower referendum in which we didn’t get enough votes to continue, by a very narrow margin,” Matteis said.

“Since we lost the commissions, we didn’t have that kind of function as an option for the industry,” he continued. Now, under the new amendment, the industry has the ability “to engage in that sort of activity to some extent through the committee” if the board so decides. “But currently we don’t have a formal program put together.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Coffee genome sheds light on the evolution of caffeine

The newly sequenced genome of the coffee plant reveals secrets about the evolution of man’s best chemical friend: caffeine.

The scientists who completed the project say the sequences and positions of genes in the coffee plant show that they evolved independently from genes with similar functions in tea and chocolate, which also make caffeine.

In other words, coffee did not inherit caffeine-linked genes from a common ancestor, but instead developed the genes on its own.

The findings will appear on Sept. 5 in the journal Science.

Why Coffee?

With more than 2.25 billion cups consumed daily worldwide, coffee is the principal agricultural product of many tropical countries. According to estimates by the International Coffee Organization, more than 8.7 million tons of coffee were produced in 2013, revenue from exports amounted to $ 15.4 billion in 2009-2010, and the sector employed nearly 26 million people in 52 countries during 2010.

“Coffee is as important to everyday early risers as it is to the global economy. Accordingly, a genome sequence could be a significant step toward improving coffee,” said Philippe Lashermes, a researcher at the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD). “By looking at the coffee genome and genes specific to coffee, we were able to draw some conclusions about what makes coffee special.”

Lashermes, along with Patrick Wincker and France Denoeud, genome scientists at the French National Sequencing Center (CEA-Genoscope), and Victor Albert, professor of biological sciences at the University at Buffalo, are the principal authors of the study.

Scientists from other organizations, particularly the Agricultural Research Center for International Development in France, also contributed, along with researchers from public and private organizations in the U.S., France, Italy, Canada, Germany, China, Spain, Indonesia, Brazil, Australia and India.

The team created a high-quality draft of the genome of Coffea canephora, which accounts for about 30 percent of the world’s coffee production, according to the Manhattan-based National Coffee Association.

Next, the scientists looked at how coffee’s genetic make-up is distinct from other species.

Compared to several other plant species including the grape and tomato, coffee harbors larger families of genes that relate to the production of alkaloid and flavonoid compounds, which contribute to qualities such as coffee aroma and the bitterness of beans.

Coffee also has an expanded collection of N-methyltransferases, enzymes that are involved in making caffeine.

Upon taking a closer look, the researchers found that coffee’s caffeine enzymes are more closely related to other genes within the coffee plant than to caffeine enzymes in tea and chocolate.

This finding suggests that caffeine production developed independently in coffee. If this trait had been inherited from a common ancestor, the enzymes would have been more similar between species.

“The coffee genome helps us understand what’s exciting about coffee — other than that it wakes me up in the morning,” Albert said. “By looking at which families of genes expanded in the plant, and the relationship between the genome structure of coffee and other species, we were able to learn about coffee’s independent pathway in evolution, including — excitingly — the story of caffeine.”

Why caffeine is so important in nature is another question. Scientists theorize that the chemical may help plants repel insects or stunt competitors’ growth. One recent paper showed that pollinators — like humans — may develop caffeine habits. Insects that visited caffeine-producing plants often returned to get another taste.

The new Science study doesn’t offer new ideas about the evolutionary role of caffeine, but it does reinforce the idea that the compound is a valuable asset. It also provides the opportunity to better understand the evolution of coffee’s genome structure.

“It turns out that, over evolutionary time, the coffee genome wasn’t triplicated as in its relatives: the tomato and chile pepper,” Wincker said. “Instead it maintained a structure similar to the grape’s. As such, evolutionary diversification of the coffee genome was likely more driven by duplications in particular gene families as opposed to en masse, when all genes in the genome duplicate.”

This stands in contrast to what’s been suggested for several other large plant families, where other investigators have noted correlations between high species diversity in a group and the presence of whole genome doublings or triplings.

“Coffee lies in the plant family Rubiaceae, which has about 13,000 species and is the world’s fourth largest; thus, with no genome duplication at its root, it appears to break the mold of a genome duplication link to high biodiversity,” Denoeud said.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

School nutrition, white potato amendments get green light at Senate Committee markup

TGF-FruitImageWASHINGTON — A Senate committee voted May 22 on a compromise amendment that would help schools adjust to new nutrition standards but without allowing schools to opt out of the new standards that require more fruits and vegetables in school meals.

The latest vote comes just two days after a House subcommittee voted to grant the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture authority to hand out waivers if schools can demonstrate hardship in meeting the revamped nutrition standards. The issue has become a powder keg on Capitol Hill during the debate over USDA’s fiscal 2015 spending measure.

Spearheaded by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the amendment would require technical changes on sodium contained in the federally supported meals, require a report on the acceptable range whole grain products and come up with a plan to provide schools with training and technical assistance.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) advocated for waivers to directly help schools that cannot meet the standards. Harkin said he would not support “blanket waivers,” prompting Hoeven to agree to the compromise amendment at this time. The bill still has to be considered by the full Senate next week.

“We commend the Senate Appropriations Committee for its sensible resolution of debate over implementation of the 2012 school meal regulations,” Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement released after the vote.

“Now that a sensible, bipartisan solution has prevailed in the Senate, we encourage all players to step back from the debate and come together to better help schools meet these simple fruit and vegetable standards,” Stenzel said. “The fresh produce industry stands ready to support the School Nutrition Association and all of its members in implementing the fruit and vegetable requirements.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to add white potatoes to the supplemental feeding package supplied to Women, Infants and Children recipients, an amendment offered by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Collins said the nutritious commodity had been unfairly excluded.

As part of a compromise, the amendment would not allow vegetables with added sugars, fats or oils from being purchased with WIC vouchers, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would have to conduct an evaluation of the nutrient value of all fresh fruits and vegetables to determine what should be in the package.

Harkin adamantly opposed the amendment, saying this would be the first time in the WIC’s 40-year history that Congress had overruled experts on the recommended food package, and that white potatoes should be excluded until USDA completes its report.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

School nutrition, white potato amendments get green light at Senate Committee markup

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee voted May 22 on a compromise amendment that would help schools adjust to new nutrition standards but without allowing schools to opt out of the new standards that require more fruits and vegetables in school meals.

The latest vote comes just two days after a House subcommittee voted to grant the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture authority to hand out waivers if schools can demonstrate hardship in meeting the revamped nutrition standards. The issue has become a powder keg on Capitol Hill during the debate over USDA’s fiscal 2015 spending measure.

Spearheaded by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the amendment would require technical changes on sodium contained in the federally supported meals, require a report on the acceptable range whole grain products and come up with a plan to provide schools with training and technical assistance.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) advocated for waivers to directly help schools that cannot meet the standards. Harkin said he would not support “blanket waivers,” prompting Hoeven to agree to the compromise amendment at this time. The bill still has to be considered by the full Senate next week.

“We commend the Senate Appropriations Committee for its sensible resolution of debate over implementation of the 2012 school meal regulations,” Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement released after the vote.

“Now that a sensible, bipartisan solution has prevailed in the Senate, we encourage all players to step back from the debate and come together to better help schools meet these simple fruit and vegetable standards,” Stenzel said. “The fresh produce industry stands ready to support the School Nutrition Association and all of its members in implementing the fruit and vegetable requirements.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee also voted to add white potatoes to the supplemental feeding package supplied to Women, Infants and Children recipients, an amendment offered by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Collins said the nutritious commodity had been unfairly excluded.

As part of a compromise, the amendment would not allow vegetables with added sugars, fats or oils from being purchased with WIC vouchers, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture would have to conduct an evaluation of the nutrient value of all fresh fruits and vegetables to determine what should be in the package.

Harkin adamantly opposed the amendment, saying this would be the first time in the WIC’s 40-year history that Congress had overruled experts on the recommended food package, and that white potatoes should be excluded until USDA completes its report.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

US (GA): Light peach crop likely in May

With growers still assessing the damage from a freeze earlier this month, it’s likely that early volumes of Georgia peaches will be light in May.

“The crop in Georgia this year will be an interesting one,” said Will McGehee, director of marketing for the Georgia Peach Council. A freeze earlier this month has contributed to the unpredictable nature of this year’s season. Because it often takes peaches a while to show whether they will make it through low temperatures, McGehee said growers are still assessing the damage from the freeze that hit the state 10 days ago. As far as volume of fruit, there are still some unknowns about this year’s crop.

“There are going to be plentiful Georgia peaches in July and the first part of August,” said McGehee. “At this time, the crop in May looks to be light and the crop in June is still being assessed.” He added that prices at the beginning of the season are expected to be higher than normal, with demand at an all-time high.

For more information:

Will McGehee

The Georgia Peach Council

+1 478 822 9210

FreshPlaza.com

Shining Light on Listeria Detection

The latest technology in foodborne pathogen detection involves a combination of bacteriophages and bioilluminating enzymes.

Boston-based company Sample6 claims that its Bioillumination Platform is faster and more accurate than other assays used by the food industry to detect contamination before produce reaches store shelves.

When co-founder Tim Lu was a graduate student, his research focused on bacteriophages – viruses that target bacteria. Sample6 has since engineered its assay to find and inject Listeria with an enzyme that reprograms the bacteria to shine very brightly.

To use the the Bioillumination Platform, workers swab the food and then use a machine to detect any light emitted from the sample.

Another helpful component of the system is the ability to input results from the tests into a company’s system to better track contamination and and correlating factors.

The assay is currently undergoing certification, but several Sample6 clients have been using it in trials for the past six months.

The company markets the test as “the world’s first enrichment-free pathogen diagnostic system,” meaning that it doesn’t require cell culture and can detect a single cell in just a few hours.

Although the test is only currently available for Listeria detection, Lu told MIT News that the platform technology could be used to detect other pathogens or in other industries such as health care.

Food Safety News

In grasslands remade by humans, animals may protect biodiversity: Grazers let in the light, rescue imperiled plants

A comparative study of grasslands on six continents suggests there may be a way to counteract the human-made overdose of fertilizer that threatens to permanently alter the biodiversity of the world’s native prairies.

The solution is one that nature devised: let grazing animals crop the excess growth of fast growing grasses that can out-compete native plants in an over-fertilized world. And grazing works in a way that is also natural and simple. The herbivores, or grazing and browsing animals, feed on tall grasses that block sunlight from reaching the ground, making the light available to other plants.

That’s the key finding of a five-year study carried out at 40 different sites around the world and scheduled for online publication March 9, 2014 in the journal Nature. More than 50 scientists belonging to the Nutrient Network, a team of scientists studying grasslands worldwide, co-authored the study.

“This study has tremendous significance because human activities are changing grasslands everywhere,” said study co-author Daniel S. Gruner, associate professor of entomology at the University of Maryland. “We’re over-fertilizing them, and we’re adding and subtracting herbivores. We have a worldwide experiment going on, but it’s completely uncontrolled.”

Gruner, a member of the Nutrient Network (which participants have nicknamed NutNet) since its founding in 2006, helped plan the worldwide study and analyze its results. Elizabeth Borer of the University of Minnesota was the study’s lead author.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that grasslands cover between one-fifth and two-fifths of the planet’s land area and are home to more than one-tenth of humankind. But like all plant communities, grasslands are suffering from too much fertilizer.

As humans burn fossil fuels, dose crops with chemical fertilizers, and dispose of manure from livestock, they introduce extra nitrogen and other nutrients into the soil, air and water. The excess is a special problem for grasslands, where many plants, like annual wildflowers and others, have adapted to low nutrient levels. They often struggle to compete against grasses that use the extra nutrients to grow faster and bigger.

At the same time, grasslands worldwide are being converted to pastures for domestic animals, with native grazers like elk and antelope giving way to cattle and sheep.

Ecological theory asserts that grazers can counteract the effects of over-fertilizing in most cases, but the theory has never been broadly tested, Gruner said. To do that, the NutNet scientists ran essentially the same experiment worldwide, marking off test plots in groups of four at each of 40 sites. In each group, one plot was fenced to keep grazing animals out. One was treated with a set dose of fertilizers, to mimic the effect of excess nutrients from human sources, but was not fenced so the animals could graze. One was both fenced and fertilized. And one was left alone.

The researchers did not try to alter the test sites’ animal populations. In some places native animals were abundant. At others they’d been mostly replaced by domestic animals like cattle, goats and sheep. And still others were former pastures where livestock had browsed in the past, but were no longer there.

In general, where fertilizer was added and grazing animals were kept out, the variety of plants in the experimental plots decreased. Where animals were allowed to graze in the fertilized plots, plant diversity generally increased. The researchers’ data analysis concluded that the grazers improved biodiversity by increasing the amount of light reaching ground level.

Grassland plants have evolved a variety of strategies to take advantage of a setting where nutrients are in short supply and inconsistently available. They may be ground-hugging, or ephemeral, or shoot up when they capture a nutrient pulse, Gruner explained. These differing strategies create a diverse grassland ecosystem.

In the human-altered world where nutrients are always plentiful, plants that put their effort into growing tall to capture sunlight have an advantage. They block the sunlight from reaching most other plant species, which cannot grow or reproduce. But grazing animals cut down the light-blocking plants and give the others a chance to bloom.

“Where we see a change in light, we see a change in diversity,” said Borer, the lead author. “Our work suggests that two factors which humans have changed globally, grazing and fertilization, can control ground-level light. Light appears to be very important in maintaining or losing biodiversity in grasslands.”

The effect was greatest where large animals, wild and domesticated, grazed on the test plots: cattle, pronghorn and elk on North America’s Great Plains; wildebeests and impala on Africa’s Serengeti; and horses, sheep and ibex in rural India. In places where the only grazers were small animals like rabbits, voles and gophers, the grazers’ effect was weak and variable.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Bright pulses of light could make space veggies more nutritious

Exposing leafy vegetables grown during spaceflight to a few bright pulses of light daily could increase the amount of eye-protecting nutrients produced by the plants, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.

One of the concerns for astronauts during future extended spaceflights will be the onslaught of eye-damaging radiation they’ll be exposed to. But astronauts should be able to mitigate radiation-induced harm to their eyes by eating plants that contain carotenoids, especially zeaxanthin, which is known to promote eye health.

Zeaxanthin could be ingested as a supplement, but there is evidence that human bodies are better at absorbing carotenoids from whole foods, such as green leafy vegetables.

Already, NASA has been studying ways to grow fresh produce during deep space missions to maintain crew morale and improve overall nutrition. Current research into space gardening tends to focus on getting the plants to grow as large as possible as quickly as possible by providing optimal light, water and fertilizer. But the conditions that are ideal for producing biomass are not necessarily ideal for the production of many nutrients, including zeaxanthin.

“There is a trade-off,” said Barbara Demmig-Adams, professor of distinction in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a co-author of the study published in the journal Acta Astronautica. “When we pamper plants in the field, they produce a lot of biomass but they aren’t very nutritious. If they have to fend for themselves — if they have to defend themselves against pathogens or if there’s a little bit of physical stress in the environment — plants make defense compounds that help them survive. And those are the antioxidants that we need.”

Plants produce zeaxanthin when their leaves are absorbing more sunlight than they can use, which tends to happen when the plants are stressed. For example, a lack of water might limit the plant’s ability to use all the sunlight it’s getting for photosynthesis. To keep the excess sunlight from damaging the plant’s biochemical pathways, it produces zeaxanthin, a compound that helps safely remove excess light.

Zeaxanthin, which the human body cannot produce on its own, plays a similar protective role in our eyes.

“Our eyes are like a leaf — they are both about collecting light,” Demmig-Adams said. “We need the same protection to keep us safe from intense light.”

The CU-Boulder research team — which also included undergraduate researcher Elizabeth Lombardi, postdoctoral researcher Christopher Cohu and ecology and evolutionary biology Professor William Adams — set out to determine if they could find a way to “have the cake and eat it too” by simultaneously maximizing plant growth and zeaxanthin production.

Using the model plant species Arabidopsis, the team demonstrated that a few pulses of bright light on a daily basis spurred the plants to begin making zeaxanthin in preparation for an expected excess of sunlight. The pulses were short enough that they didn’t interfere with the otherwise optimal growing conditions, but long enough to cause accumulation of zeaxanthin.

“When they get poked a little bit with light that’s really not a problem, they get the biomechanical machine ready, and I imagine them saying, ‘Tomorrow there may be a huge blast and we don’t want to be unprepared,’ ” Demmig-Adams said.

Arabidopsis is not a crop, but past research has shown that its behavior is a good indicator of what many edible plant species will do under similar circumstances.

The idea for the study came from Lombardi, who began thinking about the challenges of growing plants during long spaceflights while working with CU-Boulder’s Exploration Habitat graduate projects team in the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, which built a robotic gardening system that could be used in space.

While the study is published in an astronautics journal, Lombardi says the findings are applicable on Earth as well and could be especially relevant for future research into plant-based human nutrition and urban food production, which must maximize plant growth in small areas. The findings also highlight the potential for investigating how to prod plants to express traits that are already written in their genetic codes either more fully or less fully.

“Learning more about what plants already ‘know’ how to do and trying to manipulate them through changing their environment rather than their genes could possibly be a really fruitful area of research,” Lombardi said.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and CU-Boulder’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Grasshoppers are what they eat: New method to extract plant DNA from grasshopper guts sheds light on plant-insect interactions

Grasshoppers may be small, but the damages they are causing to the U.S. agriculture industry are anything but. Every year, they feed on crops and on rangelands needed for raising livestock, costing landowners millions of dollars. Although they pose a major threat, grasshopper populations play a positive role in cycling nutrients from decomposing plant matter back into the soil. A new method to investigate their feeding patterns could be the key to a better understanding of the impact of grasshoppers on plant communities.

“The main problem with current control methods is the damage done to non-target plant and insect species,” says University of Cincinnati researcher Alina Avanesyan, who developed the new protocol while studying grasshopper leaf tissue consumption. “Accurately determining the feeding preferences of grasshoppers can help us to understand the magnitude of plant damage, and consequently, whether or not control of grasshoppers is needed in a given area.”

The method recovers high-quality DNA of ingested plant tissue from grasshopper guts. This plant DNA offers valuable information about grasshopper diets because it holds more data than what can be observed by the naked eye. Scientists can use it to compare specific feeding patterns between different grasshopper species and uncover behaviors that might lead to intensive crop damage in certain areas. A detailed description of the dissection and DNA extraction, including a video illustrating the dissection technique, can be viewed in the February issue of Applications in Plant Sciences.

According to Avanesyan, “With this protocol, a researcher can focus on a variety of research questions, such as detecting plant-insect interactions, determining how long the food has been digested, estimating the prevalence of different plants in insect guts, exploring the sequence of multiple plant species consumed, and inferring feeding preferences.”

The protocol begins with a basic dissection kit used to isolate the grasshopper guts. A DNA extraction is then performed on the gut components, which results in a combination of grasshopper and plant DNA. Isolating the plant DNA involves a simple polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, which is used to amplify desired regions of genetic material for further research.

A major advantage of this method is that it can be completed in less than three hours and utilizes inexpensive laboratory equipment accessible to researchers with less funding. It also includes a new technique to divide the gut into sections, enabling researchers to track the step-by-step movement of plant matter through each gut compartment.

“We can follow plant food movement during its consumption, record the sequence of food digested (what plant was chosen to consume first) or the time needed for food digestion in each compartment, and ultimately better understand the insect food digestion process,” Avanesyan explains. “It opens doors to a completely different research area — insect physiology.”

To demonstrate the utility of the protocol, Avanesyan successfully amplified the DNA of a noncoding region of a plant chloroplast gene and performed multiple feeding trials. Results indicated that plant tissue could be detected up to 12 hours after ingestion in nymph M. differentialis and M. bivittatus grasshoppers and adult M. femurrubrum grasshoppers. For adult M. differentialis grasshoppers, which were the largest in size, plant tissue was detected up to 22 hours post-ingestion. This information lets researchers know how to time the dissection with feeding experiments.

Findings from the gut separation technique uncovered interesting details about M. differentialis grasshoppers. They often did not switch between grasses during feeding, but instead consumed different plant species sequentially.

The proposed protocol is an effective, relatively quick, and low-cost method of detecting plant DNA from a grasshopper gut and its different sections. Benefits extend far beyond grasshoppers, as it can be adapted to any insect herbivores of interest. New information obtained from ingested plant DNA could ultimately lead to more targeted and sustainable methods of managing insect populations, making the new gut DNA extraction method a valuable tool for the scientific community.

“It would be great to know whether there is a difference in digestibility between native and exotic plants, which are morphologically and physiologically similar,” says Avanesyan, who plans to continue to use the protocol to investigate plant defenses against insect herbivores.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Journal of Botany. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

RNA sequencing of 750-year-old barley virus sheds new light on the Crusades

Scientists have for the first time sequenced an ancient RNA genome — of a barley virus once believed to be only 150 years old — pushing its origin back at least 2,000 years and revealing how intense farming at the time of the Crusades contributed to its spread.

Researchers at the University of Warwick have detected and sequenced the RNA genome of Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus (BSMV) in a 750-year-old barley grain found at a site near the River Nile in modern-day Egypt. Their study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

This new find challenges current beliefs about the age of the BSMV virus, which was first discovered in 1950 with the earliest record of symptoms just 100 years ago.

Although ancient DNA genomes have been sequenced before, ancient RNA genomes have not been as RNA breaks down more rapidly than DNA — generally around 50 times as fast.

However in extremely dry conditions, such as those at the site in Qasr Ibrim in Lower Nubia where the barley was found, RNA can be better preserved and this has allowed the scientists to successfully sequence its genome.

Using the new medieval RNA to calibrate estimates of the rate of mutations, the researchers were able to trace the evolution of the Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus to a probable origin of around 2,000 years ago, but potentially much further back to the domestication of barley in the Near East around 11,000 years ago.

BSMV is transmitted through seed-to-seed contact so it is likely to originally have been transferred from the wild grass population to an early cultivated form of barley while the seeds were stored.

Dr Robin Allaby of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, who led the study, said: “It is important to know as much as we can about virus evolution as emerging infectious plant diseases are a growing threat to global food security, and of those viruses account for almost half.

“History tells us about the devastation caused by the emergence of disease from wild hosts in disparate countries, such as the Central American origin of the oomycete that led to the Irish potato famine.

“We need to build up an accurate picture of the evolution of different types of virus so we can make better decisions about policies on plant movement.

“The medieval RNA from Qasr Ibrim gives us a vital clue to unlock the real age of the Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus.

“It is very difficult to understand how a plant disease evolved by solely relying on recent samples, however this 750-year-old example of the virus allows us to more accurately estimate its evolution rates and date of origin.

“Without the Medieval RNA evidence, the virus appears to be much younger than it actually is, when in fact its origins go back thousands of years.

“It’s possible that other viruses that similarly appear to be very recent may in fact have a more ancient origin.”

The researchers believe that the Medieval BSMV genome came from a time of rapid expansion of the plant disease in the Near East and Europe.

This coincided with the tumult of the Crusades which saw the Christian lands of Europe take arms against the Muslim territories of the Near East with their sights set on the city of Jerusalem. The seventh Crusade of Louis IX in 1234 is the most closely aligned in date to the origin of the virus expansion.

The researchers believe the massive war effort could have caused the virus to spread, fuelled by an intensification of farming in order to feed the armies engaged in the campaign.

This made contact with cultivated barley and wild grass more likely, providing opportunities for the virus to ‘jump’ into the crop.

Genetic evidence also points to a split into an east and west BSMV lineage around the end of the 15th century, around 100 years after the Mongol Empire stabilised the Silk Road. It is likely that BSMV was transported to the east via trade routes such as the Silk Road in the late Medieval period.

In more recent history, the virus appears to have spread to the US from Europe around 120-150 years ago.

The research was supported by the research funding body BBSRC.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Warwick. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

RNA sequencing of 750-year-old barley virus sheds new light on the Crusades

Scientists have for the first time sequenced an ancient RNA genome — of a barley virus once believed to be only 150 years old — pushing its origin back at least 2,000 years and revealing how intense farming at the time of the Crusades contributed to its spread.

Researchers at the University of Warwick have detected and sequenced the RNA genome of Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus (BSMV) in a 750-year-old barley grain found at a site near the River Nile in modern-day Egypt. Their study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

This new find challenges current beliefs about the age of the BSMV virus, which was first discovered in 1950 with the earliest record of symptoms just 100 years ago.

Although ancient DNA genomes have been sequenced before, ancient RNA genomes have not been as RNA breaks down more rapidly than DNA — generally around 50 times as fast.

However in extremely dry conditions, such as those at the site in Qasr Ibrim in Lower Nubia where the barley was found, RNA can be better preserved and this has allowed the scientists to successfully sequence its genome.

Using the new medieval RNA to calibrate estimates of the rate of mutations, the researchers were able to trace the evolution of the Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus to a probable origin of around 2,000 years ago, but potentially much further back to the domestication of barley in the Near East around 11,000 years ago.

BSMV is transmitted through seed-to-seed contact so it is likely to originally have been transferred from the wild grass population to an early cultivated form of barley while the seeds were stored.

Dr Robin Allaby of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, who led the study, said: “It is important to know as much as we can about virus evolution as emerging infectious plant diseases are a growing threat to global food security, and of those viruses account for almost half.

“History tells us about the devastation caused by the emergence of disease from wild hosts in disparate countries, such as the Central American origin of the oomycete that led to the Irish potato famine.

“We need to build up an accurate picture of the evolution of different types of virus so we can make better decisions about policies on plant movement.

“The medieval RNA from Qasr Ibrim gives us a vital clue to unlock the real age of the Barley Stripe Mosaic Virus.

“It is very difficult to understand how a plant disease evolved by solely relying on recent samples, however this 750-year-old example of the virus allows us to more accurately estimate its evolution rates and date of origin.

“Without the Medieval RNA evidence, the virus appears to be much younger than it actually is, when in fact its origins go back thousands of years.

“It’s possible that other viruses that similarly appear to be very recent may in fact have a more ancient origin.”

The researchers believe that the Medieval BSMV genome came from a time of rapid expansion of the plant disease in the Near East and Europe.

This coincided with the tumult of the Crusades which saw the Christian lands of Europe take arms against the Muslim territories of the Near East with their sights set on the city of Jerusalem. The seventh Crusade of Louis IX in 1234 is the most closely aligned in date to the origin of the virus expansion.

The researchers believe the massive war effort could have caused the virus to spread, fuelled by an intensification of farming in order to feed the armies engaged in the campaign.

This made contact with cultivated barley and wild grass more likely, providing opportunities for the virus to ‘jump’ into the crop.

Genetic evidence also points to a split into an east and west BSMV lineage around the end of the 15th century, around 100 years after the Mongol Empire stabilised the Silk Road. It is likely that BSMV was transported to the east via trade routes such as the Silk Road in the late Medieval period.

In more recent history, the virus appears to have spread to the US from Europe around 120-150 years ago.

The research was supported by the research funding body BBSRC.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Warwick. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Lawmakers shine light on H-2A visa snafu due to government shutdown

WASHINGTON — The 16-day government shutdown caused a backlog of H-2A visa applications and, with the winter fruit and vegetable harvest season approaching, more than two dozen members of Congress urged the federal government to staff up the program and turn around applications as soon as possible.

In Oct. 18 letters to agencies that run the agricultural guest worker program, 25 lawmakers led by Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Tom Rooney (R-FL) warned that the combination of looming harvest and no harvest workers means growers in states like Florida and Arizona will be severely affected, along with consumers.

“America has already suffered cutbacks because of the government shutdown; it needn’t suffer reduced availability of fresh food because the workforce isn’t available to harvest it,” they wrote in one of the letters.

The lawmakers map out a plan involving various government agencies to get temporary foreign workers in the fields. During the shutdown, the U.S. Department of Labor was unable to take preliminary steps in processing the temporary visa applications and issue labor certifications, which in turn will cause problems at the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services and the Department of State, they say.

The letters ask the federal offices to reallocate staff to process applications quicker and eliminate the backlog in 10 days. Federal staff should prioritize the processing of H-2A applications over others; allow the use of scanned or digital foreign labor certifications with non-original signatures; and allow immigration officials to share receipt numbers with petitioners on the same day the petitions are logged in.

Traditionally, the receipt number is not shared with the petitioner until the petition is approved, and that one-week delay could cost producers, they argued.

The State Department also should increase staff to process applications and shorten the interview process for workers who have participated in the program for two or more years.

“Getting H-2A applications processed in a timely manner, even without a government shutdown, is always a challenge for produce providers,” Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement. “Paperwork being backed up for over two weeks really puts growers, who desperately need workers, in a tighter bind.”

Guenther praised the bipartisan group of lawmakers for urging federal regulators to move resources as necessary to speed visa application processing.

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