Inside this Food Report

  • Crop News: Volcanic Eruptions and Tropical Storms in Central America

  • Food Safety: Seeing the Light in Food Processing  

  • Eat Healthy: Frozen Vegetables and Fruits High in Nutrients

  • Facts + Figures: Thailand Protests: Is Agriculture in Jeopardy?



JUNE 1, 2010

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Welcome to the June issue of the Intelligent Food Report!

It may have been the cooler weather or rainy days during the first part of May here in the Northwest that influenced Ken Griffey Jr. to fall asleep in the clubhouse during a recent Mariner Baseball game or perhaps it was the sense of calm he felt going into what appears to be a not too eventful baseball season.

In any event it seems to be the same situation for our Northwest crops – it has been more or less a sleepy start to the crop season here in Washington and Oregon.  Weather has been cooler than usual with rainy days which will delay the start of pea crop.

In this June issue we report on the newest lighting available for processing facilities, comment on the recent civil unrest in Thailand, and discuss the benefits of eating frozen vegetables and fruits.


However sometimes it is just not possible to consume healthy vegetables and fruits, and this became apparent when members of Noon International had the opportunity to take our Australian teammate Carol to a Mariners baseball game. We all had a great time watching Ichiro and Griffey (he did not fall asleep that night) master their swings while eating hot dogs and drinking beer.  Vegetables and fruit were certainly in short supply that evening.  Carol, an integral part of our Sydney, Australia office, recently visited Seattle.  She is a devoted baseball fan and had never been to an American baseball game, so it was a perfect excuse to head out to Safeco Field to watch the Seattle Mariners play the Baltimore Orioles.  A great time was had by all but sorry, we just could not get those healthy and nutritious vegetables into our diet that night…unless onions on the hot dogs count!

Please enjoy our June issue and don't forget to eat healthy and delicious frozen fruits and vegetables!

Lily and Betty

CropVeggiesUnited States:  In the Pacific Northwest region growers have been dealing with cool temperatures and precipitation.  According to the USDA, potatoes were 39% emerged by the second week of May, compared to 26% emerged the first week of May.  Five year average potato emergence for the second week of May is 53%, so potatoes are still emerging at a slower than usual rate. Slow emergence rate of potatoes is definitely a result of cool weather.  Wind events in the middle of May did some damage to crops in the flowering stage, though damage was minimal.

The green pea crop will begin harvest the first week of June which is a few days delayed due to the cooler weather in May.  First indications are that yields and quality will be average or somewhat above average.

In the Mid-West during the middle and end of May growers experienced generally cool temperatures and precipitation.  In Wisconsin frost was even seen during the middle of May.  While cool temperatures and moisture slowed down rates of planting, the Minnesota field office of the USDA reported the precipitation, “…restored needed soil moisture supplies to emerging crops…”.  In Minnesota sweet corn planting was reported as 38% completed. 

PacayaVolcanoGuatemala: On Thursday May, 27'th at 3:00 PM Guatemala City had an earthquake of magnitude 3.4. In the evening after the earthquake, the Pacaya volcano 25 kilometers Southwest of Guatemala City erupted. The eruption deposited as much as 7 cm of ash in parts of Guatemala City and Lake Amatitlan and prompted the closure of Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. Pacaya has erupted intermittently for decades and experts warn that another major volcanic eruption is possible in days to come. It is too early to know the full extent of the volcano's damage on agriculture in the area. Apart from routine closures directly after the eruption, vegetable processors in Guatemala seem to be functioning normally.  

While the official hurricane season in Guatemala began on June 1st, Tropical Storm Agatha made landfall in Central America on May 28'th, the day after Pacaya erupted. Guatemala seemed the hardest hit country in Central America with numerous landslides killing more than 140 people. One of the worst hit zones was the Chimaltenango province where at least 60 people died.

Broccoli production in Guatemala is now over.  New crop season will begin end of July depending on weather and planting conditions.

Ecuador: On Friday, May 28, Ecuador volcano Tungurahua erupted. Tungurahua is 178 km south of Quito, the captital of Ecuador. The Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil was closed until the next day, Saturday, May 29'th. Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest city. While the eruption was considered medium in size there is still the potential for additional eruptions. It is too early to know the effect of the volcano on agriculture.

Tropcial Storm Agatha also hit Ecuador, though not as hard as in Guatemala. More storms are expected to hit Ecuador in 2010 in what is expected by the US National Hurricane Center to be an, "extremely active season".

New Zealand:  Psyllid problems during the 2009-2010 growing season were definitely observed, however the problem was reported as much less severe than during the 2008-2009 season.  Processors continue to have issues with fry quality but growers have been vigilant inspecting for the pest and have worked together to monitor all potato crops.  New Zealand growers report that more than the cost of the direct damage of the psyllid on potato crops, protecting against the psyllid has cost as much as 4 times what is normal.

Australia: Citrus exports from Australia took a heavy blow as two outbreaks of the Queensland fruit fly were discovered in Strahmerton and Eldorado in northern Victoria.  These two new outbreaks are in addition to an outbreak discovered in Hillston, New South Wales.  To be eligible for export fruit growers in affected areas must cold sterilize their fruit.  The Queensland fruit fly lays its larvae in the fruit.   

A large area of Australia is still affected by locust plagues and farmers will not be able to do much about the locust plague until the eggs that the locusts are laying hatch in the spring.  The locusts have moved from Queensland and New South Wales into South Australia and Victoria and continue to move south from northeast South Australia.  As the insects move south they move closer to cereal grains in which they thrive.  Serious insect control will be a top priority in affected states this spring. 

The Australian Oilseeds Federation has said this year will be the largest crop year for Canola oil production in a decade.  This is due to a 16% increase in planted acreage, combined with favorable planting conditions at the beginning of the year.

ChinaRain is falling on South China and according to the Ministry of Water Resources of the People’s Republic of China,”…70 mm of rain had fallen, bringing an end to the drought that began in the fall of last year…”.  While the rain did stop the drought, it also caused flooding in areas formerly affected by a lack of water.  As of May 20th more rain was expected prompting the Chinese government to issue a flash flood warning in 10 provinces. 

Due to the abnormal weather all over China many crops have been affected.   The demand for green beans is unusually high.  The poor weather caused Northeast China green bean production to decrease sharply.   Green bean prices could double compared to the same period last year.  

In Zhejiang province processing is underway for peapods and sugar snap peas.   The season was delayed 2 – 3 weeks due to cooler weather this spring.   It is reported that yields for peapods are down at least 50 pct compared to last year.   This shortage has increased the price of peapods by approximately US$1,000 per metric ton.

In Jiangsu province they are processing garlic sprouts, peapods and sugar snap peas.   Again yields are low and prices are increasing.

Green Asparagus yields are down 50 pct in Shandon province due to the cold winter and cool spring weather.



Seeing the Light in Food Processing

lightbulbFor machines and humans alike the ability to effectively inspect agricultural products for defects, extraneous vegetable matter, and foreign material depends primarily on one thing:  sufficient lighting.  Lighting not only affects inspection, but also can have less obvious impact on worker safety, operating costs, and even cold storage efficiency.  There are so many options in food processing facility lighting that finding the most appropriate choice can often prove difficult.    What are contemporary considerations for lighting in food processing operations and where is food processing facility lighting going in the future?       

Light intensity is measured in a unit called lux.  For reference 50 lux is the light intensity in a typical living room, 100 lux is the light intensity on a dark overcast day, 1000 lux is typical TV studio lighting, and 100,000 lux is the light intensity from direct sunlight.  Penn State University’s Food Safety and Sanitation department recommends 1180-1400 lux lighting in product inspection areas and 750-860 lux lighting in packaging and maintenance areas. 

Food processing facilities depend on fluorescent and high intensity discharge(HID) lighting to fulfill facility lighting needs.  Currently the most economical choice from an installation perspective, both fluorescent and HID lighting are seeing competition from light emitting diode (LED) lighting as the choice for food processing facilities of the future.  LED is a very bright and energy efficient form of lighting.  LED chips work particularly well in cold environments having a longer life and operating 50%-75% more efficiently than fluorescent or HID at the same temperature.  To date  LED is too expensive for most producers to install, however as Food Engineering Magazine pointed out in their January 2010 issue, “…the consensus among suppliers is that the technology is two to five years away from being ready for prime time, at least in terms of industrial interiors.”

Recent advances in LED lighting have solidified the future of LED.  From a food safety perspective LED lighting requires no glass making it an attractive option in food processing. Companies who manufacture LED’s have added red and orange spectrums giving the light a more warm and natural feel which the absence of was a past complaint of the LED .  As companies continue to perfect low cost methods of manufacturing LED lights they will almost certainly be a staple in lighting systems in food processing facilities of the future.  



Frozen Vegetables and Fruits High in Nutrients

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables can protect against and perhaps even reverse a wide variety of chronic illnesses.  Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which are essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  Many of the most healthy fruits and vegetables such as berries and broccoli can be purchased frozen year round at a consistently lower price than their fresh counterparts.  There is concern among consumers that the freezing process used to preserve fruits and vegetables detracts from their nutritive qualities, however studies suggest that for certain fruits and vegetables frozen processing does not significantly detract from nutrient contents of products harvested and frozen at the peak of freshness.        

There are two factors which most directly affect the nutritive value of frozen fruits and vegetables.  These two factors are the time between harvest and processing and the severity of blanching before product is frozen.  A 2003 study from the University of Urbino, Italy, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry pointed out that, “Preservation of the nutritive quality of frozen vegetables is closely linked to the lag time between their harvest and their arrival at the processing plant, as well as to the mildness of the blanching in the freezing process.”  Products such as carrots which are steam peeled before blanching see more depletion of their nutritive qualities than products which are subjected only to blanching.  The Italian study cited broccoli as a vegetable which was particularly resistant to nutrient leeching during blanching.     

Variety played a more important role in the presence of antioxidants than the freezing process itself in the case of frozen berries.  Another 2003 study from the Department of Plant Foods Science and Technology, Instituto del Frio (CSIC) in Madrid, Spain and published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, studied the effect of freezing on Vitamin C retention in raspberries and blackberries.  The study found no significant changes in Vitamin C between fresh and frozen berries of like variety.  What was most interesting to note is that early harvested raspberry varieties contained less overall Vitamin C content while late harvested raspberry varieties showed higher concentrations of Vitamin C and other bioactive compounds.  The Spanish study also mentioned a slight decrease in Vitamin C and other bioactive compounds during frozen storage.

FrozenBroccoli While generally frozen fruit and vegetable products are also available fresh, many frozen produce products are offered at a more competitive price than their fresh counterparts.  Frozen fruit and vegetable choices could actually be healthier than comparable fresh produce choices.  The Harvard Heart Letter from February 2010 noted that during the one or two weeks that fresh produce is being transported or sits on grocery store shelves, “…enzymes slowly break down vitamins and phytonutrients.”  As long as frozen vegetables and fruits were processed soon after harvest and not blanched excessively, there is no reason not to consume frozen produce as an economical and effective way of attaining the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy life style. 


Thailand Protests: Is Agriculture in Jeopardy?

As media outlets around the world have been reporting, Thailand has been experiencing civil unrest in the first half of May.  Largely comprised of rural supporters (The Red Shirts) of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who lives in exile from Thailand after a successful 2006 military coup ousted him, the conflict has been primarily concentrated in the city of Bangkok.  There have been some reports of protest and violence in northern parts of the country in Udon Thani and Khon Kaen but the fiercest fighting has been restricted to Bangkok.  Will the civil unrest in Thailand have an effect on major industry such as vegetable processing facilities, and is the fighting expected to continue and escalate?

Toyota motor company closed one of its factories on the outskirts of the Bangkok during the second week of May.  While Toyota says the closure is due to economic reasons rather than political reason, the timing of the closure during some of the fiercest civil unrest in recent Thailand history, makes Toyota’s explanation somewhat suspect.

Much of the can corn production in Thailand takes place in the Kanchanaburi Province to the northwest of Bangkok and no politically motivated violence has been reported in this area.  If fighting were to spread to areas where produce is grown and processed, some effect on industry would undoubtedly be seen.        

A former US diplomat stationed in Thailand until 2005 has indicated it is his belief that it is highly unlikely that the fighting will spread and we have seen no major disruptions in Thailand’s export of canned and frozen vegetables to countries such as Japan and China where many of their goods are sold.  However it seems the movement has gone beyond solely supporting Thaksin Shinawatra and protesters are screaming for social justice.   Current news reports are stating that even though the Red Shirts are now dispersed and back to their provinces they remain defiant and focused on their mission.

It is too early to know exactly what the effects of the current political situation in Thailand will be on the agricultural sector.  The majority of agricultural areas are far from Bangkok and the immediate effect on agriculture should be minimal.  Considering that most of the protestors are from rural areas there is still the possibility that severe protest could occur outside of Bangkok as it already has in the north and northeast of Thailand where many of the Bangkok protestors are from. 


For now the protestors in Bangkok have been dispersed and only time will tell what these dispersed populist protestors will decide to do next.  The situation in Thailand is a delicate one and merits continued monitoring especially for those who have business interests in this beautiful but struggling country.







Fruit for Thought...

Cherry season will soon be in peak production in Washington State.   Cherries can be consumed fresh, frozen, canned, or dried, and are rich in vitamin C and fiber.   In addition to their nutritive qualities cherries also taste great and some of the best cherries in the world are grown right here in Washington State!



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