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  • Crop News: Difficult Tomato and Soy Bean Harvest in China



NOVEMBER 1, 2010

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Dear All,

Too much candy!   Thank goodness Halloween is over as our Seattle office has certainly over done it, eating way too much candy!  Next in the holiday line up is Thanksgiving, which will bring us more substantial fare such as turkey, stuffing and pie!   Thanksgiving in the United States is celebrated in remembrance of the first European colonists to survive a winter in Plymouth Massachusetts in 1621.  I would imagine their corn and potato yields were a little less than what we manage to accomplish today!  Nevertheless, with the help of the Native Americans living in the area, these first colonists survived the brutally cold winter to celebrate the first American Thanksgiving.

Speaking of winter we can definitively feel Jack Frost coming quickly to our area bringing classic Northwest winter rain, cold, dark, and maybe even snow.  By all reports it is supposed to be a cold and snowy winter here in Washington State as it is a La Nina year.  During La Nina years ocean temperatures are cooler than average encouraging cooler atmospheric temperatures and increased precipitation in summer months.  In the United States that means winter temperatures are warmer than normal in the Southeast and cooler than normal in the Northwest.   Some members of the Seattle office are dreading the possibility of snow; while others are sharpening their skis and snowboards in hope that this is going to be an epic snow year in the mountains.

Without sounding too cliché I hope you have time this month to reflect and appreciate everything you have to be grateful and thankful for.  It is said that people who “have an attitude of gratitude” live happier and healthier lives.  Personally I am thankful that my youngest son, a recent college graduate, just landed his first professional job…(Yeah!!!) and on behalf of Noon International everyone here is very thankful for all of our wonderful suppliers and customers.   If you celebrate Thanksgiving we wish you a wonderful celebration and if you do not normally celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday we hope you still have the opportunity to take some time out of your busy lives to reflect about all you have to be thankful for.    

Lily and Betty


United States: Many parts of Washington State experienced the first light frost of the fall in the second week of October.  According to the USDA there was little evidence of crop damage.  Apple harvest will continue through early November as long as hard freezes do not disrupt harvest. Currently Granny Smith and Red Delicious varieties are being harvested in the Yakima valley.  Late pear harvest in Washington State and Oregon continues but is winding down and should be finished by November.     

Potato harvest in Washington State, Idaho, and Oregon continues with harvest in Oregon winding down as temperatures drop before the onset of winter.  In Washington State potato harvest continues in Benton and Walla Walla counties.  As of the third week of October Idaho potato harvest was a minimum of 85% completed in all districts.  Harvest conditions have generally been favorable in all regions.  Frost will become a concern in November.

Slicer carrot production in Washington State is complete and dicer carrot production should be finished by the beginning of November.  It has been a good season with average yields and quality.  

Onion harvest for fall and winter storage in Washington State, Idaho, and Oregon is wrapping up.  Harvest in Idaho is reported by the USDA to be 95% complete.  Some Oregon onion growers were completely finished with harvest by mid October.    Demand for most onion varieties has been reported as steady in Washington and Oregon State.  Idaho growers and processors have reported the demand for medium yellow and white onions has been slightly higher than usual and this has been reflected in open market pricing and in value added onion products.  

Yellow Onions Ready for Collection

Juice and wine grape harvest in Washington was in full force in mid October and should be completed in November.  In Oregon grape harvest is just beginning in most counties.

The 2010 US cranberry crop is estimated by the USDA to be up 6% from last year.  Carryover from the 2009/2010 market should depress frozen cranberry prices this year.   

Edamame harvest in Ohio completed with favorable weather conditions and good yields.  No herbicides or pesticides were applied to the crops the entire season.

Canada:  Reports from Canada indicate that the potato crop generally improved during October.  Despite anticipation of a bad harvest in Alberta, two weeks of rain in the last part of September allowed Russet Burbank’s to bulk.  This could allow the tight processing market to take some potatoes from Canada. 

Potato and vegetable losses due to rain have been observed in British Columbia.  Schouten, the largest potato grower in BC, has reported losses of up to 30%, valued at $2 million.  Beets, carrots, and seed potatoes have also seen major damage.  Some farmers say it is the worst season they have seen or heard of since 1920. 

New Zealand:  This winter and spring in New Zealand has been reported as the coldest in 50 years negatively affecting a variety of crops.  Crops relying on insect pollination are expected to produce lower than usual yields.  2010 kiwifruit production, which relies partly on industrial bee pollination, is expected to be lower than in 2009.  This could put pressure on companies which process kiwifruit to successfully secure raw product. 

The current cold weather in New Zealand will have an inflationary effect on produce in New Zealand until at least December reports the New Zealand Herald.  The average fresh New Zealand grown broccoli prices alone increased 49.5 percent.  The weather was improving in mid October but if rain returns disease and mildew problems could occur.

Australia:  The Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry  reported that, “The widespread infestation of locust nymphs has increased in New South Wales, eastern South Australia and northern Victoria during October.”  Aerial spraying to control young locusts, called nymphs, continues...        

Chile: Asparagus harvest and processing is underway in Chile. Weather this season has been cooler than usual reducing harvest yields by approximately 25%.

Guatemala: Heavy rain in Guatemala in the beginning of October slowed broccoli harvest volume below normal levels.  Broccoli production is expected to return to normal levels through November and December as the rainy season subsides. 

Mexico: Broccoli and cauliflower production continues with product largely coming from the Bajio region.  Weather has been predominantly fair in October with some small rain showers reported.    

Thailand:  Northern and Central Thailand have seen major flooding during their monsoon season which generally lasts until the first part of November.  Major sweet corn growing areas in this region have been affected but damage estimates are not forthcoming so far.  In the south the pineapple growing areas are reportedly unaffected by flooding although this could change if heavy monsoon rains continue.   

China: There has been a significant drop from the previous year in raw product for the Chinese tomato processing industry.  Largely due to an unusually cool growing season some processors are putting the total raw product available as low as 6 million tons.  Last year’s tomato crop was in excess of 8.5 million tons.  The tomato industry in China relies heavily on manual labor for harvest.

Wet Cool Weather Negatively Affected Chinese Tomatoes

Labor shortages all over rural China are impacting Chinese agriculture’s ability to harvest and process food products in a cost effective manner.  In search of higher paying work, rural workers are going to city factories where minimum wages have been rising as much as 20% a year in Beijing.  Many factories in rural areas simply don’t have enough workers to continue day to day operations. 

In southern China the August Chinese soy bean harvest has been severely damaged by wave after wave of torrential rains and typhoons. Some producers have put losses as high as 70%. Due to Typhoon Megi, Southern China experienced some crop damage near the end of October, although most of the damage occurred in Taiwan and the Phillipines.       

This year's apple harvest in China has not gone well. Estimates on the extent of the damage vary widely depending on the source, yet all agree that the price of Chinese apple juice concentrate will rise compared against the previous year. The problem seems to be most heavily focused among smaller producers of apple juice concentrate.





Pesticide Free…A Viable Option?

Faced with rising operating costs, a limited labor force, and stagnant consumer spending in an uncertain economy, farmers around the world are constantly looking for a new way to market and sell their products.  In the past decade organic farming has emerged as a way to add perceived value at the end user level enabling increased profit margins.  Yet as organic farming grew so did the regulations surrounding it.  Now to be certified organic by the USDA’s National Organic Program it requires an expensive certification process which many small farmers feel is designed to give an advantage to big agriculture leaving many small growers having to make the decision whether or not organic certification is a viable business plan.  In a world where big agriculture dominates the industry, organic certification for smaller farmers is difficult as they try to compete in the marketplace.   So what can small farmers do to develop an alternative, but no less healthy, niche industry?

Many small farmers say that while they’re not officially certified organic by the USDA, they rarely apply pesticides and consistently use natural fertilizers to increase yields.   There are field areas that receive no pesticide application season after season.  Perhaps the best way to move away from an organic industry increasingly dominated by big agriculture is to develop consumer interest in pesticide free products.  Not only could pesticide free products be a healthy alternative to organic, they would cost less for the producer to make, a savings which would be attractive to consumers.

A number of challenges remain to successfully bring public attention to the benefits of pesticide free farming.  One is a current lack of pesticide free standards.  These standards would be easy enough to develop and lot testing for pesticide residue and pesticide free status could be more affordably accomplished than the constant and expensive cycle of USDA certification and recertification.  Getting the word to the consumer that pesticide free products can be a healthy, sustainable, and cost effective alternative to organic also needs to be accomplished.  Consumer confidence in organic goods, while possibly misplaced, has strengthened in the last decade as organic standards have become more transparent.  The same thing needs to happen with pesticide free products if an industry is to be developed.  While the pesticide free movement is not yet a part of consumer culture, the possibility remains that the industry could be developed in the future.     

Could Pesticide Free Products Make Farmers More Money?



Asparagus and Health: Spearing the Competition

Asparagus Growing in Fields



Asparagus is a nutritious vegetable that has seen significant world production growth in the last twenty years.  It is especially attractive to growers due to high demand and the fact that an asparagus plant will produce asparagus for more than a decade if properly cared for.  Asparagus is recognized as an extremely healthy vegetable and this has helped spur on the growth of worldwide demand. Asparagus has been shown to be high in folic acid, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, fiber, and even protein.  This combination of nutrients makes asparagus a particularly powerful super food that has many qualities which research has suggested could prevent the onset of certain diseases such as heart disease and stroke.        





For expecting mothers especially, the high folic acid content of asparagus has been associated with lower rates of certain birth defects in infants.  Neural tube defect (NTD) is one of the most common birth defects affecting 1 in 1,000 births in the United States alone.  NTD occurs during the first month following conception, a time in which many women don’t yet know they are expecting.  Most recently a 2010 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology agreed with past folic acid and NTD studies pointing out that, “We estimate conservatively that folic acid fortification has the potential to prevent 46% of NTD incidence and mortality…”

There is also evidence to suggest that asparagus can help prevent cancer.  One beneficial compound in particular that asparagus has in abundance is glutathione.  Glutathione is the most prominent non-protein molecule in cells and aids in cellular detoxification.  Asparagus has the highest glutathione concentrations of any fruit or vegetable!  Gordon Wardlaw, a dietetics professor at The Ohio State University, outlined the following health benefits of glutathione on the California Asparagus Commission website:

  • It participates in a process which cells use to break down highly toxic peroxide and other high-energy, oxygen-rich compounds, in turn preventing them from destroying cell membranes, genetic materials (eg. DNA), and other cell constituents. Glutathione also participates in repair of damaged DNA.
  • It can bind carcinogens in the body, aiding in their removal via waste
  • It participates in immune function.
  • It can recycle vitamins C and E back to their active forms and in this way may help reduce cataract development in the eye.

 While asparagus season in the northern hemisphere has come to an end, in South America the asparagus season is currently underway and it is still possible to source super healthy asparagus from the region.  If you want a delicious and incredibly healthy vegetable that everyone from unborn children to the elderly can benefit from, look no further than asparagus.            




The Shifting Polyethylene Market

Polyethylene terephthalate(PET) is a thermoplastic polymer resin used in the manufacture of synthetic fibers, television parts, and food and beverage packaging.  There are often complex factors which directly affect the price of PET on world markets.  These factors change rapidly making the PET market a particularly difficult one to predict or follow with any degree of specificity.  One manufacturer has pointed out that while significant PET price fluctuations have long been common to the industry, recently these fluctuations have changed in that they can be measured in months not years as in the past.  What is the current state of the PET industry, what factors affect PET pricing, and where is the PET industry likely to go in the future?    


PET Pellets

PET prices increased considerably starting in the 4th quarter of 2009 and have continued to increase through the first part of 2010.  There is some indication that prices are stabilizing in the final half of 2010.  Westlake Chemical, the third largest producer of polyethylene in North America, reported increased earnings from $17.9 million in the first quarter of 2010 to $56.9 million in the second quarter of this year.  It is important to note though that these earnings were largely attributed, “…to higher average sales prices for all major products.”  It is likely that as chemical companies’ profit margins stabilize, so also will the price of PET, but that is assuming there will be a consistent global supply of raw material.         

The reasons for these recent price increases are complex and PET producers often make production capacity decisions independent from other market factors.  Fuel prices, transportation costs, raw material prices, and consumer spending can all have a direct effect on the size and duration of PET price fluctuations.  Recently the rise in popularity of flat panel TV’s, which use a thick gauge PET has taken much of the capacity formerly reserved for manufacturing uses such as food packaging.  In addition there are rumors that a Chinese government subsidized conversion to digital televisions will lead to the manufacture of 40,000,000 new televisions, possibly eliminating China’s ability to export PET in the coming months, and perhaps even forcing them to look abroad for product.  While it seems that currently PET prices have somewhat stabilized, the future might hold enough new uses for PET to limit supplies available for food packaging, driving up prices and lowering available raw product.      

Did you Know...?

In order to prove that eating potatoes is healthy, the Executive Director of the Washington State Potato Commission has committed to eating ONLY potatoes for 60 days from October 1st until November 29th!  The decision was made partly in response to recent government efforts to limit potatoes in Federal child nutrition programs.   


Happy Thanksgiving!





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