Food Market brings news, talk and insight into the food business, from farms to supermarkets to restaurants. Reporters Mike Hughlett and Tom Meersman delve into the work of Minnesota’s food companies and issues such as food safety and labeling.

Not Just the Dairy State

Posted by: Tom Meersman Updated: July 28, 2014 - 9:31 AM

Wisconsin has again topped the nation as the largest cranberry producer.

A new production report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that Wisconsin cranberry growers set a new record by harvesting just over 6 million barrels of cranberries in 2013, a 25 percent increase above the 4.8 million barrels the previous year.

A barrel contains about 100 pounds of cranberries.

Gov. Scott Walker released the USDA figures and said Wisconsin produced 67 percent of the nation’s cranberries in 2013, and three times as much as Massachusetts, the second-largest cranberry producer.

According to a 2012 study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, cranberries are grown on 21,000 acres across 20 counties in central and northern Wisconsin that support 3,400 jobs.  The economic impact was estimated at $300 million.

Cranberries are also grown commercially in New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.

About 95 percent of the crop is used for juice, according to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association. Sales have been flat in recent years, so the growers’ group is trying to create new markets globally.

A soybean is not just a soybean

Posted by: Tom Meersman Updated: July 24, 2014 - 5:32 PM

Foreign demand for premium, food-grade soybeans is increasing rapidly, especially in China and Southeast Asia, so the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association is hosting two workshops to highlight the new opportunities for Minnesota farmers.

Most soybeans are grown for livestock feed and oil, but other varieties are used for tofu, miso, soy milk, and other foods. China raises its own food-grade beans, but it is rapidly outstripping its production capabilities, said Keith Schrader, a farmer from Nerstrand and chair of Minnesota Soybean's market development team.

"We are also seeing increased domestic demand for these soybeans," he said.

Food-grade soybeans are a valuable crop that requires more management, including special harvest and storage techniques. Some of the demand comes from buyers seeking soybeans that have not been produced from genetically-engineered seeds.

Dan Lemke, Minnesota Soybean spokesman, said farmers who have considered growing food-grade soybeans might want to take another look at it, especially if they have smaller acreage.

The all-day workshop sessions are free and will be offered at South Central College in North Mankato on July 31 and at the Courtyard by Marriott in Moorhead on Aug. 19. Topics include markets, seed selection, production, crop insurance, contracts, certification and transportation.

For more information, visit www.mnsoybean.org.

Rebates available soon for organic farmers

Posted by: Tom Meersman Updated: July 21, 2014 - 9:41 AM

Organic farmers in Minnesota can apply for rebates beginning next month to offset up to 75 percent of the costs they pay each year for certification. 

Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said the cost-share program provides "important regulatory cost relief" for organic farmers and handlers. They are required by law to hire an accredited certifying agency each year to verify compliance with national organic standards.

Funding for the rebate program was included in the Farm Bill passed by Congress earlier this year, and Minnesota's allocation for 2014 is about $540,000. 

MDA officials said that farmers in Minnesota pay between $360 and $6,000 for organic certification each year, depending on the size and type of operation, and the certifying agency that they select.  The median cost of certification for organic handlers, which include food processors, feed mills, brokers and other enterprises, was about $2,300 in 2012.

Information about organic practices, certification requirements and related topics is available at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic

Application materials for the rebates and more information will be available when MDA opens the program in August.

Cargill reduces antibiotic use in turkeys

Posted by: Mike Hughlett Updated: July 17, 2014 - 6:20 PM

Cargill, one of the nation’s largest turkey producers, has taken a step toward removing growth-promoting antibiotics in its birds.

The Minnetonka-based agribusiness giant said this week that that its Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms brands are the first major turkey brands to remove growth-promoting antibiotics.

Concern has mounted in recent years over animal antibiotic use and its effects on humans.

Antibiotics are commonly used in animal feed, but not just for health reasons. Producers of turkeys, pork and other food animals have used antibiotics to goose growth.

Over time, people have become more resistant to antibiotics, a potential public health issue. And several studies indicate that the use of antibiotics in food producing animals is linked to human antibiotics resistance.

Cargill’s move towardsless antibiotic use is so far limited to whole turkeys, a small part of the overall turkey market. Cargill says all turkeys in its production system are expected to be free of antibiotics for growth purposes by the end of 2015.

“Consumer research tells us people are more interested than ever in where their food comes from and how it is produced,” Ruth Kimmelshue, president of Cargill’s Turkey and Cooked Meats business, said in a press statement.

“We believe ending the use of antibiotics to promote growth in turkeys is an important step.”

Cargill will still use antibiotics for illness treatment in turkeys and for disease prevention. The latter use makes some critics wary because it means antibiotics are widely administered to birds.

Cargill has seen fallout from antibiotics resistance first hand.

In 2011, the company recalled 36 million pounds of ground turkey – the largest U.S. poultry recall ever – after the spread of an antibiotic-resistant strain of Salmonella Heidelberg was linked to its product. Nationwide, 136 people were sickened and one person died.

Bee-friendly law for Minnesota

Posted by: Tom Meersman Updated: July 16, 2014 - 9:37 AM

A new plant labeling law that protects honeybees and other pollinators is now in effect in Minnesota.  The law requires that plants advertised as "beneficial to pollinators" must be free of detectable levels of certain insecticides.

Many plants sold in nurseries have been treated with systemic insecticides that move within the plant tissues and can potentially reach plant flowers where pollinators may be feeding or collecting pollen.  The new law, effective July 1, does not allow plants treated that way to be marketed as beneficial to bees, butterflies and other pollinators. 

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture will enforce the law, which is intended to protect plant pollinators from exposure to the insecticide residues that may persist in flowering plants. MDA officials said they intend to enforce the new statute using a phased approach, focusing initially on educating the nursery industry and offering "compliance assistance" during inspections.

A fact sheet about the new law is posted on the MDA's web site at www.mda.state.mn.us/labelfactsheet

General Mills opens big innovation center in China

Posted by: Mike Hughlett Updated: July 15, 2014 - 10:25 AM

General Mills Tuesday unveiled its first innovation and technology center in China, one of the packaged food giant’s most important markets.

The $15 million project is the first major General Mills technical center outside of the company’s headquarters in Golden Valley. It has smaller technical centers in France, Brazil and India.

General Mills CEO Ken Powell is in China today for the inauguration of the new facility. “Our new technical center in Shanghai provides General Mills a tremendous opportunity to accelerate growth in the greater China region,” Powell said in a press statement.

China is a key growth market for packaged food makers. General Mills is particularly strong in ice cream in China with its Haagen-Dazs brand, and also is big in frozen dinners with under the Wanchai Ferry banner.

General Mills, which controls the Yoplait brand worldwide, is preparing to enter the $8 billion yogurt market in China and has begun building a new yogurt plant. The company currently has three food production plants in China.

General Mills’ sales in China have grown at a 15 percent annual compound rate over the past four years, reaching over $700 million in 2014.

The company now derives about one-third of its overall $17 billion in sales from overseas markets, with Europe being the largest.

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