I had the chance to chat on Aug. 17 with John McClung, president of the Mission-based Texas Produce Association.
11:02 a.m. Tom: John, you have your convention coming up this week. What is the mood of your members as you gather again this year? What are some of the hot topics for discussion?
11:12 a.m. John McClung: The Texas industry has had what can probably be accurately described as an average year. We had a good orange/grapefruit crop; onions suffered on price and production, again, was about in line with recent years. The trend toward imports, mainly from Mexico, continued. As to issues, for the citrus component we continue to worry--and seek solutions to--the threat of Canker and Greening. The latter is by far the most threatening, and as you know it has now been confirmed in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Mexico. We've had a very good Mexican Fruit Fly year and hope that carries over into next season. Beyond that, we are paying close attention to national issues, including food safety, immigration reform, climate change, and reform of the health system. The latter, while certainly not just an agricultural issue, has the potential to be more important than about anything else on the screen, depending on where the Congress and the Administration wind up.
11:14 a.m. Tom: John, you have intimate knowledge of how Washington works, having served "inside the beltway" with United Fresh and others. How has "having been there" help you communicate the gravity of some of these issues with your members?
11:22 a.m. John: Because of my misspent youth in Washington, I always think individuals in the industry should pay much more attention to what happens there than most do. Many industry members, on the other hand, believe that's why they pay dues to the Texas association and other organizations around the country: to take care of those problems. As a practical matter, the association "hired guns" certainly can tee the issues up for their members, but when it comes down to a congress person from Mississippi--or any other state--making a tough decision on a vote, generally they pay a lot more attention to a constituent than to a lobbyist. Point is, there's room--and need--for both.
11:25 a.m. Tom: There is a lot of talk about the future of agriculture these days. When you look at the Texas produce industry, do you have hope that next generation will find its footing and be in a position to grow fruits and veggies for tomorrow's consumer? How do you think your industry may change in the next five years or so?
11:37 a.m. John: There's no question we're going through a period of global economic restructuring that impacts agriculture along with other major sectors. In Texas, we seem to have leveled out on production, more or less, after two decades or more of contraction in the domestic produce industry in the state. But, interestingly, we are shipping more product to the rest of the nation than we ever have before; the change is that it's somewhere around 60 percent imports. So, while Texas apparently is no longer among the 10 top production states in the nation (we were third for many years), we are still the third largest supplier. More important, when you get behind those numbers, you see that companies and individuals that were strictly domestic a few years ago are heavily involved in Mexico now, and that trend is accelerating. I suspect that once Congress decides what it wants to do about food safety reform legislation, the end result may impact disproportionately on imports, which is why we're tracking the food safety legislation closely. From the big picture perspective, our industry is globalizing at a very rapid rate, and those who understand and plug into that trend should survive. I heard someone say the other day that despite the changes, you can still make a small fortune in the produce industry. The trouble is, you have to spend a big fortune to do it.
11:39 a.m. Tom: Ha…....how to be a millionaire... start out with 10 mill... John, you have been very generous with your time. Last question. can we find you on Facebook, Twitter, both or neither?
11:45 a.m. John: Funny you should ask. Just last week I asked one of the "kids" in the office to explain those two concepts. They tried. I'm still working on it. But for now, the answer is no and no.
11:46 a.m. Tom: Better get on that twitter, I think you'd like it. Thanks again, John and have a great show.
John: thanks, Tom