AMI Chair Message
Growth, Change Propel AMI Forward
Stephen Anania, Amycel/SpawnMate
Over the past two years, AMI has experienced some great successes along with a few changes. This year’s biggest change is AMI’s hiring of Rachel Roberts as Executive Director. Rachel comes to AMI with more than 20 years of experience in policy consulting, government and non-profit management and connecting business leaders, elected officials and community leaders. She has been diving into AMI and industry issues, and I’m confident she will work with our valued staff to lead AMI into the future.
In February, AMI hosted a very successful 25th North American Mushroom Conference in Orlando, FL. From the venue to the speakers to the networking events, the conference received positive feedback. Thank you to the members who attended, the staff, exhibitors and especially to the sponsors who helped make it such a successful event.
Hopefully you’ve already seen the changes made to Mushroom News and AMI’s website. The magazine has a fresh new look, and Lori Harrison, Director of Communications, along with the Mushroom News committee continues to work hard to provide content that is relevant and useful to members. Speaking of change, Bill Barber, Giorgi Mushroom Company, will step down as Mushroom News Chairperson in January 2020. Bill has served on the committee for 35 years, and his enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment has helped raise the profile of not just Mushroom News, but our industry. Jeremy Lawson, also of Giorgi Mushroom Company will be the next committee Chairperson. AMI also has a new website. I encourage all of you to visit the site either on your desktop, tablet or phone. The site includes much of the information and resources from our previous site, along with new functions and information to help you in your business.
Much of what is accomplished at AMI comes from the help of our volunteer committee members. For about an hour or so each month, these members help drive AMI’s initiatives, provide strategic input, give end-user feedback critical to evaluating innovative projects, and share expertise. These efforts have helped to elevate AMI within the produce industry, to solidify relationships both within and outside the industry, and to provide resources for our businesses. If you currently do not participate on an AMI committee, I strongly encourage you to learn more about them and get involved. The benefits far outweigh any barriers you may perceive.
With that, I want to give you an update on just some of the projects and initiatives of AMI’s dedicated committees and their hard work we all benefit from. This is by no means a complete list of all the work the association is doing.
The Mushroom Employee Safety and Health (or MESH) Committee has formed two new subcommittees. First, the Front-End Loader Subcommittee was created to develop safety standards and best practices for employees using front-end loaders. The committee has already produced a training toolkit for mushroom companies who use front end loaders, which is available on the AMI website. The subcommittee plans to expand on the existing toolkit and create tools which will be useful to composters as well as smaller farms.
Second, the Case Management Subcommittee was developed after members of MESH and the HR Task Force identified the need for a case management standards and best practices. They are producing a toolkit to help companies manage worker compensation claims and get employees back to work sooner. The management-focused committees represent the spirit of AMI membership and community in grappling with soft-skills techniques necessary to align the management of our industry with the human resources needs and technological advances touching our workers.
Members of the Integrated Pest Management Committee from both coasts continue to partner on registration efforts for stylet oil in California after successfully obtaining a special local needs label for the product in Pennsylvania. Local members worked to have an updated Section 18 for PHOR-EX issued for Pennsylvania growers in February and additional work is ongoing with Spinosad and Thiabendazole. Updated Worker Protection Standard DVDs were distributed to all member farms in December. The training videos are also available on the Pesticide Educational Resources Collaborative website and on their YouTube page, and a link is available on the AMI website.
Through the Food Safety Task Force, AMI created a member survey to determine which food safety audits AMI grower and packinghouse members are using and to get food safety contact information for all farms. Preliminary results have been shared, and the next steps will be to identify areas of need and then develop educational materials and host training sessions.
The Community Awareness Committee was created to help provide funds for education, training and outreach to the community. The Committee raises proceeds each year through a golf tournament and uses those funds to award scholarships to students within the Kennett Square area. To date, CAC has raised over $850,000 in scholarships for students seeking higher education in agricultural fields and other industries.
Nearly 40 members of the Mushroom Farmers of PA staffed the mushroom booth at the 2019 PA Farm Show. The event was a big success, thanks in large part to the MFPA member volunteers, where tens of thousands of visitors attended the weeklong event – the largest indoor farm show in the country.
AMI’s research grant proposal to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture was funded at $30,000 for a project titled “Waste Mushroom Stumps as a Poultry Feed Ingredient” to be completed by September 2019. Dr. John Boney of Penn State is drying a sample of waste stumps and determining the nutritional contents, while Scott Welsh, Fieldstone Innovations, is focused on the logistics associated with waste stump handling and transportation.
Laura Phelps continues to advocate for the industry in Washington and around the country. Negotiations are ongoing between the House Judiciary Committee and agricultural labor interests, and the Committee leadership has indicated that bills on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will be considered before ag workforce legislation. The Senate has said it will wait on the House to move first on ag labor legislation.
AMI is monitoring a petition filed by a number of agriculture groups for modifications to electronic logging devices and hours of service regulations, citing “unique challenges” that the agricultural industry faces. The industry is waiting to for a response from the Department of Transportation.
Like other industries, we’re keeping an eye on the import and regulatory tariffs. Twenty-five percent tariffs have been placed on $200 billion worth of items from China (including fresh and processed mushrooms). Spawn (including shiitake logs) was not on the original tariff list but was included in the product categories announced in mid-May to be under consideration for the next round of potential tariffs. China has also included mushrooms on its list of retaliatory tariffs on US exports.
Over the past year, AMI has expanded its outreach to media covering topics such as labor, sustainability, economic impact data, trade issues and more. AMI has partnered with media reporters that resulted in stories in trade publications like The Packer, PA-local publication The Philadelphia Inquirer and national outlets like NPR and others.
One of the core principles for AMI is to educate those outside of the mushroom community on the impact of our industry and how we fit in the larger agriculture sector. To that end, AMI has met with, and some of our members have provided tours to, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, U.S. House of Representative Chrissy Houlahan, U.S. International Trade Commission members, state and local government representatives, Future Farmers of America, media outlets, and more.
As my term as Chairperson of AMI’s Board of Directors comes to close, it’s my honor to pass the gavel to Joe D’Amico of To-Jo Mushrooms. Under Joe’s leadership, I know that AMI will continue to grow and expand its relevance to and resources for our industry. On a personal note, I want to thank the AMI Board of Directors, staff and AMI members for their hard work, commitment and dedication to AMI and the mushroom industry. It certainly made my job easier. I have great faith that AMI is moving in the right direction and look forward to seeing how much further we can go.