“We’re very supportive of that because ultimately that will be very good for our shippers here in the U.S. who sell into Canada,” he said.
The AMS may evaluate how it can help promote fruit and vegetable consumption, he said.
“I would be interested in developing a partnership with one of the associations to look for ways that we can help promote consumption of fruits and vegetables because it benefits the public and it certainly benefits our stakeholders too,” he said.
School lunch boost
Parrott said the AMS is also increasing purchases of fruits and vegetables for the school lunch program because of new nutrition standards for school meals. USDA fruit and vegetable purchases for schools increased from $289.8 million in fiscal year 2012 to more than $443 million in fiscal year 2013, according to the department. USDA purchases only account for about 15% of the food that goes in school meals, he said.
USDA purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables totaled $144.1 million in fiscal year 2013, with processed fruit and vegetable purchases that year tallying $299.4 million.
Parrott said the USDA is trying to buy more value-added fresh produce for school use.
“The sliced apples work very well because even for school systems that don’t have tremendous refrigeration capabilities, it is generally a product they can handle, with a shelf life of about ten days,” he said.
Carrots in 2 ounce bags are popular, with ideas to expand purchases for seedless grapes and orange slices.
“Because schools have to provide a larger serving of fruits and vegetables, they are looking for additional ways to do that,” he said.
Parrott said the USDA is always interested in expanding the pool of companies that are able to sell to the government.
“We’re not limited,” he said. “We need big, but we need small too.”
Industry demand for USDA good agricultural practice audits have gone up significantly in the past several years, he said, with more buyers requiring them.
USDA GAP and GHP audits totaled 3,578 in 2013, up from 1,587 audits in 2008.
“We’re looking for ways to ensure that even small producers can get GAP certified without too great an expense or difficulty so they can have access to all these markets as well,” he said.
Parrott said the USDA AMS is increasing its outreach to the industry via Fruit and Vegetable Program News and through web seminars. Particularly, he said there is always a demand for information on how the PACA program works and how to comply with the law. Spanish language seminars have found high participation, and the he USDA is planning a first-ever Korean language PACA web seminar for January because of a significant number Korean-language produce operators in the U.S., Parrott said.