Successful businesses all seem to have a common bond – a commitment to quality, consistency, and integrity. During a recent trip with my colleagues, I saw firsthand the many ways that companies are turning to my agency – the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – to provide these factors to pave their path to success.
Our first stop was the packinghouse at West Coast Tomato LLC in Palmetto, Fla. Thanks to meeting USDA audit requirements, the high-volume packer can confidently sell its tomatoes to restaurants, grocery stores, and re-packing companies. The fascinating thing about West Coast Tomato LLC is that the facility is nearly completely automated. Almost all of the tomatoes are sized and sorted mechanically. “Our use of technology has significantly decreased our re-packing,” says plant director John Darling. “As a result, we’re better equipped to meet buyer requirements.”
Florida tomato businesses like West Coast Tomato LLC are able to supply quality products thanks in large part to the Florida Tomato Committee, which was created by the Florida Tomato Marketing Order under our Marketing Order and Agreement Division. The committee funds research, development and marketing projects to strengthen the Florida tomato industry.
During our trip, we got a chance to talk to Reggie Brown – the committee’s manager – about the impact of the marketing order. “The Florida tomato industry, which accounts for nearly 35 percent of the fresh tomatoes produced in the country, has benefitted from the consistency that the marketing order created,” says Brown. “In addition to creating consistency within the market, we also made food safety a top priority for tomato growers. These types of efforts have helped Florida tomato businesses supply companies like Subway – our biggest customer.”
AMS also has a strong connection to the processed produce world. This was evident in our visit to the Cutrale Citrus Juice USA, Inc. Plant and Coca-Cola Bottling Facility in Auburndale, Fla. The major processor for nearby Coca-Cola, Cutrale supplies the juice for brands like Simply Orange and Minute Maid. These two organizations formed a solid partnership that includes a pipeline that delivers processed juice to the bottling facility. Another common bond they have is using our Specialty Crops Inspection Division (SCI) services. Both operations have in-plant SCI inspectors to assure the plant is following Good Manufacturing Practices and to check product quality for things like acidity level, color defects and flavor.
A Brazilian-based company, exports play a major role in Cutrale’s business model. Recently, the company was one of four Florida businesses that benefited from our Specialty Crops Inspection Division’s (SCI) ability to verify the domestic origin of its juice. This helped the company avoid a costly 54 percent tariff and enabled them to continue to export its products duty-free. “USDA’s verification of domestic product allowed Cutrale’s juice to enter the South Korean market duty free, breaking a stalemate that could have lasted for years,” said Cutrale USA, Inc. President Hugh Thompson, III. “South Korea will be an important market for Florida juice and we appreciate the USDA’s urgency in resolving this issue.”
Another highlight of the trip was our tour of Island Grove Ag Products in Hawthorne, Fla. This enormous operation specializes in producing blueberries. Diversification is the key to this operation’s success. Island Grove has enough space to include conventional crops as well as blackberries and blueberries that are certified organic by Quality Certification Services, one of our accredited certifying agents. They even opened up a winery to make blueberry wine and other fruit wine blends.
AMS is proud to play a leading role in the success of so many agricultural businesses. We remain committed to creating more opportunities for our nation’s producers, ranchers, and the businesses they support.