Ambrosia apples go Hollywood in Oscars nominee gift bags

At the 87th annual Oscars, Ambrosia apples will step up as a first-time featured item in the official gift bags that non-winners in the major categories receive.ambrosia Ambrosia apples stand out as the only fresh produce item to be included in this year’s gift bag and will join more than $80,000 worth of merchandise as part of the “Everybody Wins at the Oscars” nominee gift baskets.

The variety is a relative newcomer on the U.S.-grown apple landscape, after being discovered as a chance seedling in Canada. It is an eating apple ideal for snacking or enjoying with wine and cheese. The apple is versatile with a creamy flesh and sweet, honey-like flavor.

“Ambrosia apples really are exceptional, worthy of Hollywood’s best,” Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for Columbia Marketing International Inc., said in a press release. “While the award nominee gift bag is always unique, sweet, crisp Ambrosia apples have earned their moment in the spotlight as well. We’re delighted to have Ambrosia apples included.”

McDougall & Sons — a family-owned fruit-farming company in Wenatchee, WA, with roots going back more than 100 years — is the exclusive U.S. grower of Ambrosia apples. 

After 10 years of orchard development, both organic and conventionally grown Ambrosia apples, which are non-GMO, are now available nationally in leading food markets.

PMA Foundation announces 2014 Tip Murphy Scholarship recipients

The Produce Marketing Association Foundation for Industry Talent has announced the fourth annual Tip Murphy Scholarship for Leadership Excellence recipients for 2014. Steven Bindas of Chiquita Brands and Casey Kio of AMC Direct were selected by the PMA Foundation Tip Murphy Selection Committee. The scholarship is part of the PMA Foundation’s initiative to establish a workforce with the diverse skills necessary to meet the complex demands of business.

Created in 2008 to honor the life and career of produce industry veteran Tip Murphy, the annual scholarship grants industry professionals the opportunity to engage in industry-specific professional development through PMA and PMA Foundation programs.

Bindas has elected to pursue the PMA Foundation Emerging Leaders Program, designed to offer an intensive knowledge and relationship-building program focusing on equipping tomorrow's leaders with critical management and thinking skills. Partnering with the well-renowned Thunderbird School of Global Management, Bindas will join the rest of the 2015 class, March 8-12 in Glendale, AZ.

“I am honored and humbled to win the 2014 Tip Murphy Scholarship for Leadership Excellence,” Bindas said in a press release. “This scholarship gives me the opportunity to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program, which is going to be a great tool for me to hone and develop my leadership skills.

“Working at Chiquita, it doesn’t take long to find someone who knew Tip Murphy," he said. "It’s clear he left a lasting impact on everyone he led. That’s my career goal, to leave that same kind of lasting impact on the people that I work with.”

Kio has chosen to engage in the PMA Foundation High Performance Management Conference, a program designed for mid-level leaders. She will join a group of peers throughout the supply chain on Sept. 14-17 in Chicago.

“To be able to represent AMC Direct and our industry through this scholarship opportunity is sincerely humbling,” Kio said in the release. “In a fast-paced industry such as produce, I believe it is vital to continue to develop and grow both personally and professionally.

“I am privileged to be able to attend the High Performance Management Conference where the behavior-based simulation platform translates directly into improved company profitability,” she said.

The scholarship covers registration fees and associated hotel expenses for any of the PMA Foundation’s leadership-development programs and is funded by supporters of the Tip Murphy Legacy Fund, an endowment established by friends and colleagues of Murphy to honor his life and career.

The fund and scholarship program are managed by the PMA Foundation as part of its mission to attract, develop and retain talent for the global produce and floral industry. For more information about the scholarship or to apply in 2015, visit

Complex Vidalia onion mandatory pack/ship date has another day in court with more to come

For years, Vidalia onion growers have sparred about when their season should officially begin. Some say coming to market too early puts lesser-quality onions in front of consumers and tarnishes the brand. Others say no calendar can determine when a Vidalia onion is ready to market.

The two sides squared off in court last year after Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black issued a ruling setting a standard start date each April before which no Vidalia onion can be packed or shipped.

Bland Farms LLC in Glennville, GA, filed suit to have Black’s start date overturned, and a Georgia judge ruled in the onion grower’s favor last March. Black’s office immediately filed an appeal, the results of which are expected to be known some time before the Vidalia season begins in April.

In the meantime, an apt demonstration of how complex the issue has become came Jan. 26 in the form of a pre-ruling clarification of the existing ruling issued by Fulton County (Georgia) Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob.

Shoob agreed that, as per the initial ruling, Black overstepped his authority as commissioner by setting a mandatory pack/ship date and is prohibited from enforcing that order.

Georgia’s agriculture commissioner exceeded his authority when he changed the start date for Vidalia onions and he is prohibited from enforcing the packing date, even though the case is on appeal, Shoob ruled.

According to court documents, Shoob wrote, “The court’s final order (on March 19, 2014) clearly granted the injunction, and thus (Black) is prohibited from enforcing the unconstitutional packing rule date.”

The clarification was needed because Shoob ruled there was ambiguity about Black’s appeal. The recent action paves the way for the final ruling on the appeal, which may not come before the end of March, according to Bland’s attorney, Michael Bowers.

Black’s office held Bland in violation of his order during the 2014 season, but given the court’s initial ruling and the pending status of the appeal, no fines have been levied nor actions taken.

Black’s initial packing rule was issue in August 2013 and mandates that no Vidalia onion can be packed or shipped sooner than 12:01 a.m. on the Monday of the last full week of April each year.

Church Bros. adds red to salads for Valentine's Day

Church Bros. is getting foodservice operators to add red to their salads for Valentine’s Day as the company ships its heirloom red spinach to restaurants nationwide.Chopped-Heirloom-Red-Spinach-prep

Church Bros., a leading grower-processor-shipper of more than 500 fresh vegetable SKUs, is currently growing the exclusive heirloom variety in its winter growing region of Yuma, AZ. The company offers this exclusively in two formats: all red or a 50-50 blend of red and green spinach.

“We’ve been growing heirloom red spinach since 2010” Brian Church, vice president agriculture production, said in a press release. “The texture of the leaves is similar to traditional green spinach.  However, being an heirloom variety, the spinach grows in wild like ‘clusters’ that gives it varying lengths of soft stems.”

Heirloom red spinach has all the nutritional benefits of green spinach, and it is multi-functional and can be used to create colorful salads, wraps, or sides, or used as an ingredient, garnish or natural color agent to bring passion and energy to plates. The product is triple-washed and ready for use.

Concept ideas using fresh heirloom red spinach can be found at

China market opens for all U.S. apple varieties

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service announced Jan. 26 that China has agreed to allow all apple varieties produced in the United States access to the Chinese market.

The agreement was finalized during recent bi-lateral negotiations in San Francisco but comes after years of work. Expanding market access to China has been a top priority for U.S. Apple Association.

“Our growers produce premium-quality apples of many varieties, and this year’s record crop makes it even more exciting to see a new export market open up,” Jim Bair, president and chief executive officer of U.S. Apple Association, said in a press release. “But, what our industry has had to do — and will need to continue doing — is assure those growers’ best interests are considered both abroad in new markets like China and here in the domestic market where other apples could in turn be brought in.”

The decision will be effective in about 45 days and allows direct shipment of all U.S. varieties from all states. A U.S. apple industry coalition, including USApple, Washington Apple Commission, Northwest Horticultural Council, Northwest Fruit Exporters and U.S. Apple Export Council has long worked to assure that U.S.-grown apples would be allowed equal access. Chinese access to the U.S. market was in final negotiations and is also approved by the agreement.  

Red Delicious and Golden Delicious varieties from Washington received import approval in October 2014, after having been closed out for two years. Since those varieties are declining in production, achieving full access for all varieties from all states was a critical achievement for U.S. growers.

One of the greatest concerns among U.S. growers regarding imports has been the potential introduction of foreign pests and diseases into domestic orchards. Nearly 15 years ago, USApple and NHC formed the Tree-Fruit Technical Advisory Council, a coalition also known as TreeTAC that consists of expert scientists from the top-producing states charged with safeguarding the U.S. tree fruit industry from potential pest and disease threats. The TreeTAC scientists reviewed China’s import request at every step in the lengthy process to ensure U.S. growers would be protected.