(CORRECTION) At some point, the U.S. Department of Agriculture could be due for some high-level talks on a new specialty crop.

Highs and lows of industry controversiesAs in HIGH-level talks, that is.

With Colorado and Washington legalizing recreational use of marijuana in 2012, and 20 states and the District of Columbia allowing the medical use of marijuana, could there be a time when the leafy green herb is classified as a specialty crop?

Think of the implications: Grower-financed promotions through assessments, standardized grading overseen by marketing orders, university researchers competing for Specialty Crop Block Grant funding. Any testing programs would no doubt break the record for students applying to take part in the “research.”

Although there are 38 “medicinal herbs” (including feverfew, pokeweed, skullcap and witch hazel) identified as specialty crops by the USDA, marijuana (even hemp seed) is not included.

Marijuana — medical or otherwise — is big business. According to a 2006 report based on federal statistics, my home state of Kansas ranked the value of the crop at $64 million.

Regardless of how the crop could/should be regulated in the future, the production of marijuana in California is making business for legitimate specialty crop growers more difficult.

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the legalization of medical marijuana and a crackdown on illegal operations has flushed some pot growers from the Sierra Nevada and into the Central Valley.

“We’re sitting in a war zone,” stone fruit grower Dennis Simonian told Wall Street Journal reporter Matt Black. Sheriff’s deputies in 2012 raided a pot farm in rural Fresno on land adjacent to the Simonian family fruit operation.

According to the story, Fresno County sheriff deputies took out about 25,000 marijuana plants from a vegetable farm this summer. Vegetable growers are caught in the middle, according to the article, because marijuana growers in some cases are cutting down vegetable crops and planting their own crops.

According to the Journal, Fresno sheriff deputies have already identified 343 marijuana farms and yanked more than 136,000 plants this year. As this continues, expect marijuana growers to become more aggressive.


There’s a showdown brewing in Hawaii over genetically modified crops, and it could kill a local crop that’s been a clear victory for fruit growers.

Pushed almost to extinction because of the ringspot virus, Hawaii’s papaya industry came up with a genetically modified solution in the 1980s. Known as the Rainbow and SunUp varieties, it basically brought the industry back from the brink of destruction.

Council members on the Big Island, however, are seeking to ban growing GMO crops. Although at least two of the bills have been introduced, the bill’s sponsors say they want the local papayas to be exempt.

Whether the final bills include the papayas or not, Ross Sibucao, the president of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association, told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald they could put the more-than 80 farms that grow the tropical fruit out of business.

The stigma the bills — and a growing anti-GMO movement — place on the crop could jeopardize its acceptance at retailers on the island and other markets, Sibucao said.

Comedian Roseanne Barr, who grows nuts on the island, even stopped by to offer comments during a hearing on an anti-GMO bill. She said others on the island would be glad to help by burning the trees, allowing them to “grow something decent.”

The interest is no less evident here on the mainland, where most stories from The Packer website on new varieties/crossbreeds of fruits and vegetables are met with “Is this a GMO product?” A story on Del Monte’s plans to test a pink pineapple continues to get hate mail.

It would be a shame for the papayas to fall victim to the anti-GMO sentiment on the island.


Sometimes it’s embarrassing to be part of the media, even if most people in the fresh produce industry realize The Packer has an understanding of industry issues that’s often lacking in the consumer press.

Take, for instance, the coverage of the cyclospora outbreak several weeks ago.

The story concerns foodservice packs of iceberg/romaine blend, distributed at restaurants, including Red Lobsters and Olive Gardens. In many photos accompanying that story, at least in Web coverage, is an Associated Press photo. There are three things wrong with the photo:


  • It’s taken at retail;

  • It’s of the wrong salad blend; and

  • The recall focuses on larger foodservice packs.


That’s three strikes and shows an ignorance or carelessness on behalf of AP and the online media that picked it up, including The Huffington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Fox News and NYMag.com.

NOTE ON CORRECTION: The original article incorrectly identified the states that legalized marijuana in 2012. They are Colorado and Washington.


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