I admit, I was a Scrooge this time last year. In fact, my year-end column began with “Bah-humbug!”

Three cheers for produce industry’s banner year

Dan Galbraith
Sections Editor

While bad news certainly hurt the fresh produce industry in 2008 and actually took the top four spots on the 2009 countdown, this year enjoyed more than its share of industry bright spots.

Putting aside the top four stories of recession’s effects, food safety reform hassles, traceability turmoil and company failures from the credit crunch, the industry should remember 2009 fondly.

After all, 2009 marked successes with the Women, Infants and Children and school feeding programs and the adoption of the U.S./Canada organic equivalency agreement, among other positives.

For a recap of all the ups and downs the top stories of the year brought the industry, I invite you to check out the Year In Produce tabloid inside this edition of The Packer.

But now it’s time for me to award the second-annual “YIP-pie” honors, recognizing the biggest stories in individual news categories, such as people news, company news, government news and trend-related items.

People-related story: It seemed only fitting that a year full of huge people-related industry hirings and firings ended with a bang at year’s end, when some of the biggest people news took place.

I could make an argument that Dwight Ferguson, former president and chief executive officer of Willcox, Ariz.-based Eurofresh Inc., accepting the president/chief executive officer job at Naples, Fla., berry shipper Naturipe Farms LLC and Manolo Reyes, of Costco Mexico, succeeding Ron McCormick as head of produce and floral at Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., were two of the most important people items of the year.

In fact, let’s make those the two finalists for the 2009 people news YIP-pie award.

The envelope please …

And the winner is … Manolo Reyes succeeding Ron McCormick at Wal-Mart.

Oh, brother. I wonder if this will set up a Wal-Mart domination of awards in this year’s YIP-pies.

Company-related news: Again, two strong contenders emerged in the race for this year’s company news YIP-pie.

The Salyer American/SK Foods fiasco that staff writer Dawn Withers documented so thoroughly in The Packer and at thepacker.com has been the obvious award frontrunner all year. But can it survive a late challenge from Wal-Mart?

Let’s find out after this commercial break … Did you know The Packer is now on Twitter and Facebook?

OK, enough self-promotion for now. The envelope, please …

And in company news … Wal-Mart wins once again! Two-for-two to start this year’s awards show!

Too bad nobody from Wal-Mart would return our calls this year or we would have invited them to our stage to accept their awards.

Government-related news: Safety issues ranked No. 1 in both The Packer’s 2007 and 2008 lists of top news events and continuing food safety reform efforts ranked as the second-most important story of 2009.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed its food safety bill Nov. 18, putting the industry closer to eliminating such escapades as the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak erroneously linked to tomatoes.

Placing second in this year’s government-related YIP-pie contest: The expanded role of fresh produce on school menus and in the Women, Infants and Children program.

Trend-related story: The push for national food safety guidelines and the proposed national marketing agreement for leafy greens — while having more bark than bite in 2009 — secured 47% of the Produce Pulse survey answers to the question, “Which was the biggest fresh produce industry trend news in 2009?”

Safety nationalization is inevitable, one way or another, and its only major competition for this year’s YIP-pie is the locally grown fresh produce craze that took off in 2008 (ranking as No. 4 on our list of top stories). Locally grown dropped to No. 7 in this year’s countdown, so we’re giving the YIP-pie to nationalization of food safety.

Weather-related story: While California had continued water woes, Mother Nature actually treated fresh produce growing regions quite well overall, sparing growers from widespread hurricane and hail damage, so we’ll award her with this year’s YIP-pie in the hopes it will inspire her to continue to be more nice than naughty from now through Christmas 2010.

This concludes this year’s “YIP-pie” awards. Let’s just hope 2010’s version truly gives those working in the fresh produce industry cause to actually exclaim, “Yippie!”

Perhaps a big fresh produce industry post-recession bounce will serve as 2010’s top story.

E-mail dgalbraith@thepacker.com

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.