Gary Reeder and West Coast Tomato Win a 2017 4R Advocate Award from The Nature Conservancy
Florida’s farmers are stewards of 9.45 million acres of land and responsible for $4 billion in agricultural commodities exports. Our farmers are facing the challenge of meeting produce demands while conserving soils, supporting water quality, minimizing water usage, and protecting landscapes. The Conservancy works closely with many members of the agricultural community to help ensure best management practices are implemented to support conservation. On March 2, 2017, Conservancy partner and farmer Gary Reeder and his colleagues at West Coast Tomato were honored for their environmental stewardship and received a national 4R Advocate award from The Fertilizer Institute (TFI).
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship program promotes practices for sustainable and effective fertilizer use, focusing on the “4Rs” — the right source, right rate, right time, and right place. Reeder’s family has farmed the same land for 45 years, and he has been implementing practices aimed at efficiently using nutrients and water even before the 4R program had its name. Growing spring and fall tomatoes requires great volumes of water and careful management, and the farm’s highly efficient irrigation system allows water usage to remain below permitted water allotments. Through best practices and constant soil testing, the right nutrient decisions are made and quality plants are grown, limiting nutrient loss.
Winners will receive an expense-paid trip to the 2017 Commodity Classic, “America’s largest farmer-led, farmer-focused convention and trade show”, where they will be honored at an awards banquet hosted by TFI.
A supplement of lycopene – an extract from the vegetables that is 10 times more potent than vitamin E, was given to volunteers who had the disease and it was shown to benefit them by normalizing the function of the inner lining of a blood vessel called the endothelium.
Pharmacologist and associate lecturer at Cambridge University, Dr. Joseph Cheriyan, said the study shed new light on healthy properties of certain diets.
“There’s a wealth of research that suggests that the Mediterranean diet – which included lycopene found in tomatoes and other fruit as a component – is good for our cardiovascular health. But so far, it’s been a mystery what the underlying mechanisms could be,” Cheriyan said.
For the study, 36 cardiovascular disease patients and 36 healthy volunteers were given either an off-the-shelf lycopene supplement or a placebo.
The results showed the supplement worked well on the patients, improving the widening the blood vessels by 53%, while it had no effect on the volunteers. Constriction of the blood vessels is one of the key factors that can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Dr. Cheriyan explained although this is a very positive first step, there is still potential for much more research to prevent these diseases in the first place.
“We’ve shown quite clearly that lycopene improves the function of blood vessels in cardiovascular disease patients. It reinforces the need for a healthy diet in people at risk from heart disease and stroke,” he said.
“A daily ‘tomato pill’ is not a substitute for other treatments, but may provide added benefits when taken alongside other medication. However, we cannot answer if this may reduce heart disease – this would need much larger trials to investigate outcomes more carefully.”
Along with tomatoes, lycopene is also found in other fruits and vegetables like grapefruit, watermelon, asparagus and carrots.
The study was funded and sponsored by Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust, and further support came from the Wellcome Trust, the British Heart Foundation, and the university’s Biomedical Research Centre.
The McClure family has farming in its blood. Going back to the early 1900s, this family operation was a pioneer tomato grower in Florida’s Manatee County.
Known today as West Coast Tomato/McClure Farms, the operation is number 18 in the Southeast on American Vegetable Grower’s list of Top 100 growers. The farm produces about 3,700 acres of fresh market tomatoes. Tomato production begins in mid October and finishes in July. All of the tomatoes are packed at the farm’s facility in Palmetto and then distributed across the U.S. and Canada.
To meet the demands of today’s marketplace, the farm opted to grow another tomato type, which involved making some changes at its packing
facility. The tomatoes are sold under the brand names Manatee River and Primo Italiano.
While the farm has grown its Manatee River round tomatoes for 30 years, Primo Italiano, a Roma, was added just four years ago because there was demand in the market for the tomato type, explains D.C. McClure, the farm’s vice president and one of the newest members of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association board of directors.
Pack ‘Em Up
To accommodate the new tomato type, no production changes were necessary, says McClure. The need for postharvest handling machinery, however, did change. About five years ago, the farm began using some prototypes of state-of-the-art sorting equipment that was engineered in Europe.
Once all the tomatoes are harvested, they go through the packing facility and get sized and sorted, explains McClure’s brother-in-law Bob Spencer, who heads up the packing operation. The state-of-the-art, computer-driven machinery from MAF Industries is equipped with a camera that helps size and color sort tomatoes. “The unit’s camera takes a photo and provides an accurate size and color sort,” he says. “Color size and sorting used to be done by hand.”
According to McClure, the new equipment has improved the farm’s percentage of packout fruit. “It provides better color sorting than what the human eye can see,” he says. “Someday it may help us with defect grading.”
Food Safety Issues
In addition to adding new equipment in the packinghouse, the farm has added a full-time employee in charge of all food safety issues. Hired a few years ago, Fritz Stauffacher is the farm’s safety compliance and human resources officer.
In the area of food safety, McClure, stresses the importance of maintaining and updating records. “The paper trail is a critical part of this,” he explains. “We need to have the documentation stating that we are in fact meeting the criteria of all the food safety rules and regulations. We are audited by a third party and we have to meet a long checklist of requirements to prove that we are running a sanitary operation.
“All of our migrant labor harvesters are properly trained and we must document that they were properly trained,” he continues. “It is all about documentation.”
West Coast Tomato also had a history of raising cattle, but after the E. coli outbreak in fresh spinach that occurred last fall in California, the family opted to sell its herd. “We felt it would be best to get rid of the cattle because it was a risk for a potential liability,” says McClure.
The risk of the tomatoes becoming contaminated, however, is substantially reduced because, in Florida, the tomatoes are grown on stakes and are held up off the ground, he explains. In addition, McClure says the soil is covered with plastic, so the tomatoes never really touch the ground.
So what are they going to do with the land that was used by the cattle? “We will probably grow sod or hay crops,” he says. “Should the opportunity ever arise that we can have cattle not be close to tomato fields, then we may bring cattle back.”
The Labor Situation
In addition to staying on top of food safety issues, labor also has been an ongoing dilemma. About a year ago, when the construction industry nationwide was booming, vegetable growers were in a tough competition for workers. “Now,” says McClure, “with construction being off, we are in a supply market rather than demand on labor.
“That could change if construction gets back into the groove again,” he continues. “The more pressure the government puts on the people trying to get into the country, the tighter our labor market gets.”
According to Spencer, the farm must remain concerned about the availability of legal labor. “We have to be concerned about the potential fines and criminal penalties,” he says. “It seems we are always walking through a mine field.”
West Coast Tomato employs close to a thousand workers during harvest. In the packinghouse, Spencer says there are about 150 permanent workers with a total of about 350 to 400 workers that are year-round employees.
Down the line, Spencer says he would like to see a stable labor base. On top of that, he’d like to see more efficient and lower-cost farming, and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables nationwide. “I think it is important that we have domestic production of vegetables,” he says. “I think it’s good for the economy as well as the health and safety of our country.”
The farm also will continue to stay on top of the latest technology. In the field, GPS and laser technology are used. “Twenty years ago we didn’t have access to the technology that is available today,” says Spencer. “Technology has improved the efficiency of our farms, including water use, fertilizers, and pesticides. There is a reason we have created such a high yield in our farming operations. It is directly related to technology.”
Technology may have increased the efficiency of the farm, but McClure says the costs involved in farming will continue to increase. “I feel that we have a very good company with a lot of good managers,” he says. “We have a strong team and if anyone can stay in the game in the face of rising costs, we will.”
What he doesn’t want to see happen, though, is subsidies become a crutch for the industry. “It sounds like a good thing on the front end, but once the government steps in and starts providing subsidies, it ruins things for many industries,” he explains. “Subsidy payments will take the swings of the free market out of the industry. The potential is there to cripple the tomato industry as subsidies have done in other areas.”
What the industry needs now, say Spencer and McClure, are growers working together for the good of all. “We are all going to have to get together with our lobbying efforts to get some common sense and workable solutions to all these problems in the areas of labor and food safety that are being legislated for us by more urban-thinking people,” concludes McClure.
Source: http://www.thepacker.com | 12/02/2011
PALMETTO, Fla. — After enduring later-than-normal starts, buyers should expect smaller Florida tomato volume.
Doug Ohlemeierand and Bob Spencer (left), vice president and sales manager of West Coast Tomato Inc., Palmetto, and Terry Harris, salesman, on the packing line running mature greens in early November. This year’s Florida tomato deal started later than normal and is bringing lower than usual volume.Because of heavy rains and excessive heat that struck during the early parts of the central Florida deal in September and October, season volume is running 7-10 days later than usual.
Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing for Lipman, Immokalee, said buyers should expect to see regular volume in early December.
“Things are getting better,” he said in mid-November.
“The quality and volume will be normalized once we hit the first week of December. Our packouts are decent. We don’t have a lot of size yet. I would say we have a more even distribution of sizes now. We’re not running heavy to the extra large at this point.”
Some Immokalee growers began spot pickings in early November before south Florida production typically starts in mid- to late November, Odell said.
He said Florida’s true window, when central and south Florida production ship promotable volume, typically begins around Thanksgiving.
Odell said demand began to build after central California finished its mature-greens harvesting, and though Mexico started moving some volume of romas and hothouse tomatoes across the border, west Mexico hadn’t started yet in mid-November, and Sinaloa production is scheduled to start in late December.
Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, which has operations in Ruskin, said the season opened with disappointing production.
He said yields suffered a 30% decline.
“Yields and packouts have been below-normal,” he said in late November.
“The heavy rains and heat made for bad settings. The tomatoes picked this week and what will be picked next week will continually get better. Quality and sizings should progress going forward into December.”
DiMare said buyers should expect volume from Palmetto-Ruskin in early December.
He said business finally began increasing after California finished and Canada’s greenhouse industry began winding down.
In mid-November, DiMare characterized opening season mature-green tomato prices as near typical.
In late November, however, prices increased as the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Nov. 16 reported 25-pound cartons of loose mature-greens 85% U.S. No. 1 or better selling for $14.95 for 5x6s, 6x6s and 6x7s, up from the $13.95 for 5x6s, $12.95 for 6x6s and $11.95 for 6x7s it reported a week earlier.
East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., Mulberry, ended its Virginia harvests in late October and began Florida production in early November, about two weeks later than normal, said Batista Madonia Jr., vice president of sales and operations.
- See more at: http://www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-news/shipping-profiles/Smaller-Florida-tomato-volumes-on-tap-for-retailers-134920123.html#sthash.4UPqBb6j.dpuf
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