The fruit and vegetable industry is an integral part of our country. Besides helping increase access to healthy foods, the industry generates $40 billion in sales and empowers communities by creating jobs and stimulating economies. While it’s great to notice the strength of the produce industry, it is important to remember that it is the result of careful research and planning. I had the chance to watch the industry rekindle this energy as I visited with leaders from each of our marketing order boards and committees during a management conference last week.
There were some great takeaways from the meeting. We heard an update about the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) from Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor. He ensured us that FDA is looking to collaborate with partners like USDA to help the industry comply with the FSMA regulations when they become final. We also heard from our Commodity Procurement Program Director Dave Tuckwiller, who encouraged everyone to take advantage of new opportunities to sell food to USDA. Thanks to new National School Lunch standards, my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) purchased 20 percent more fruits and veggies in 2013 than in the previous year.
I was reminded that the leaders from these boards and committees view USDA and other government agencies as a partner to help their commodities overcome barriers and reach new markets. These groups – whether large or small – were created to find a way to better their entire industry. Working with our MOAD employees, the committees and boards create industry-wide regulations that moderate the flow of high quality products that will help their businesses increase sales. They also work together to develop cutting-edge marketing and promotional campaigns that help expand the reach of their products. All of this is done after thorough research and analysis of market conditions.
In our mission to facilitate the marketing of U.S. agricultural products, AMS oversees 28 fruit and vegetable marketing order committees. In the fruit and vegetable industry, marketing order and agreement regulations serve more than 60,000 producers and support a combined crop value of more than $21 billion. The regulations encompass geographic areas, enabling growers and handlers in their area to benefit from their provisions.
A continuous dialogue with these leaders helps their industries remain nimble and able to adjust to changes in the marketplace. For example, many growers recently suffered from a reduction in citrus production in Florida and California that was caused by citrus greening. Working with MOAD employees, the Texas citrus industry was able to amend its marketing order to expedite size requirements for citrus produced there. As a result, these producers are able to fill a void in the marketplace, a tremendous benefit for consumers. In similar fashion, our employees worked with the Almond Board of California and several other organizations to improve trade conditions with the European Union, enabling U.S. almonds to more easily reach this market.
This meeting furthered efforts by directly connecting industry leaders with the MOAD employees that they communicate with on a regular basis. It also put them in touch with other specialists from AMS and other agencies. After hearing experts talk about a wide array of topics spanning from USDA’s international trade programs to nutrition guidelines, these leaders now have more information to help their industries successfully market their products.
AMS remains committed to using marketing orders and other tools to facilitate marketing opportunities for our nation’s fruit and vegetable industry. If you are in the produce industry, we encourage you to learn more about the Marketing Order and Agreement Division to how we are helping businesses like yours or how you can start a marketing order in your area.