Don Needham, Fastrak Express, Inc.

2015-2016 proved to be another exciting year for the American Mushroom Institute. We’ve done so many things that demonstrate how enthusiasm and teamwork are alive and well in the mushroom farm community. While we faced challenges, from government budget stalemates to record-breaking weather, our staff, consultants, committee members and Board of Directors rolled up their sleeves and delivered.

From an operational perspective, we continue to make improvements to our team. New hires this year include Bev Rubel and Rosa Neli Zavala. I encourage members to get to know these new faces, which we should all recognize from reading Mushroom News. All of AMI’s administrative functions have been moved to our Avondale office. From this office we distribute promotional, regulatory and training materials, host meetings with elected officials and conduct committee and board meetings. We appreciate our members helping with tours, attending meetings and getting the word out about our industry. When you’re in the area, stop by to say hello.

Our office in Washington, D.C., is still fully functional in order to monitor regulatory issues and make sure our voices are heard by our elected officials. AMI remains active in the Agricultural Workforce Coalition as well as other such groups, and we will keep members informed of any future legislative updates. If you have a question or concern, help is only a phone call away.

We are pleased to announce a new insurance partnership with HealthFirst Benefits that will greatly benefit our membership. Brendan Kelly, president of HealthFirst Benefits, and his team are positioned to help our member companies, both large and small. If you’re interested in learning more about how HealthFirst can help with your insurance needs, contact Brendan at [email protected] or 610/2727-520, or visit their website at http://hfben.com/.

The AMI-OSHA Alliance Safety Committee has continued to strive to make our farms a safe workplace for all employees. This committee fulfills a fundamental need to share information, address safety concerns and provides actions and plans for small- and large-scale mushroom growers. The committee has reduced injuries, created standards of best safety practices and continues to develop and provide training courses and programs in a proactive effort to keep our workers safe.

At the 2016 AMI-OSHA Annual Meeting, accident information voluntarily submitted by 40 individual AMI member companies showed a steady improvement year to year, industry wide, of the number and severity of accidents. Presentations from the 2016 AMI-OSHA Annual Meeting are available on the AMI website along with a variety of safety programs and other safety training presentations.

In addition to hosting the annual meeting and monthly committee meetings, the Safety Committee develops and promotes training courses and programs for workers’ safety. The Committee partnered with local stakeholders to offer eight sessions of First Aid/CPR training in both English and Spanish that trained over 150 employees. Also, Managing and Supervisory Personnel Training sessions were offered in English and Spanish that have been attended by over 100 employees.

Looking back to 2008, one of the OSHA Alliance’s primary goals was to shift its safety culture. Historically, the industry has been very production-driven, as is the case with most agricultural businesses. However, today, after the implementation of successful safety programs, it is “safe” to say that safety is now valued as much as cost control and product quality as an essential in the sustainability of our businesses. While the results we have achieved together are encouraging, we are committed to continue to strive to be better- and safer- every day.

Food Safety Task Force members have been hard at work identifying and prioritizing food safety projects. Accomplishments include the MGAP all species audit, CRISPR technology talking points, food safety training app development and constant monitoring of legislative and regulatory activity as it relates to food safety. The Task Force and AMI staff also updated the industry’s Issues Management Manual with current contact information and procedures to better assist farms in case of a foodborne outbreak.

In November, AMI held a luncheon to pick the brains of the past chairmen of AMI. Attendees included the following former AMI chairmen: Robert Yeatman (1968-69), Michael L. Hopkins (1986-87), Michael L. Pia (1987-89), James J. Ciarrocchi (1989-92), James A. Angelucci (1993-95), David Carroll (1997-99), Jack Reitnauer (2001-04), Mark Wach (2004-06), Pete Gray (2006-08), and Don Needham (2014-present). Throughout several hours of round-table discussion, the former chairmen offered AMI staff insight into the challenges that lie ahead for the mushroom farm community as a whole.

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Committee worked with Penn State to create tags for secondary or service containers for pesticides and other chemicals. The AMI Avondale office is distributing 25 tags to interested member farms free of charge. Alternatively, a downloadable web-version of the secondary container label has been posted to the AMI website.

The first electronic version of the Mushroom News was produced in January 2016. This version permits readers to gain access to the magazine through a smart phone, tablet or computer and is available with page navigation icons, a smart index and active hyperlinks.

In January, the Mushroom Farmers of Pennsylvania (MFPA) had a major sponsor presence at the 100th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, PA with an interactive exhibit. There were even mushrooms featured in the famous butter sculpture! More than two dozen volunteers took turns working the booth. Celebrity chef Gina Neely and former White House Chef John Moeller helped promote mushrooms and visited with MFPA volunteers. Our focus on “The Blend” created a media buzz that was palpable throughout the event. In total, the MFPA-sponsored booth received positive press from more than 25 media outlets. Thanks to MFPA members who took time out from their busy schedules to attend. Thanks also to Gale Ferranto for waking up early and staying out late to give dozens of interviews to TV, radio and podcast stations.

MFPA members worked diligently to update the list of items used by the PA Department of Revenue to determine taxability or tax exemptions for mushroom farms. Many of the items requested were approved as exempt, and those that were not will continue to be monitored and petitioned.

The MFPA Committee hosted meetings for elected officials throughout the year. Congressman Meehan joined us in August for a discussion on labor needs in the mushroom farm community and the impasse over immigration reform. In March, PA Rep. John Lawrence, Rep. Chris Ross and Sen. Andy Dinniman met with MFPA to discuss the importance of mushroom promotion and research grants in the Pennsylvania state budget.

The newly formed Human Resources Task Force met for the first time in June. The HR Task Force was created to ensure AMI members are informed about new trends, best practices and legal requirements in the areas of employee benefits and human resources administration. This group will be responsible for creating best practices and toolboxes for human resources professionals at mushroom farms and associated businesses. Education and training materials will be developed and presented at workshops. This committee is for farms with dedicated HR professionals as well as those farms that have “renaissance” men and women who perform HR tasks, in addition to a myriad of other job responsibilities. We’re very excited to see what this diverse and enthusiastic team can provide our industry.

Mushrooms Canada announced the next North American Mushroom Conference will take place from June 21-23, 2017, at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City, Canada. Please contact Bev Rubel if you are interested in volunteering on the NAMC Committee.

As we look ahead to the next year, we know there is a lot of work to do, but I can sum it up very simply – it’s all about delivering results to our members in the most efficient way possible. When I think about the scope and breadth of AMI, I know everyone has to pull in the same direction every day to get done what we need to get done. It’s a huge undertaking; that’s why feedback is so important. Contact your board members or AMI staff to tell us what you need, what we’re doing right and what we need to improve. We encourage your participation.

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