Although Exempt, Agriculture Employees Must be Paid the Federal Minimum Wage

 

 

 

Are you in compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? The FLSA establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping and child labor standards affecting employees in the private sector and in Federal, State and local governments. Covered nonexempt workers are entitled to a minimum wage of not less than $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. Overtime pay at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay is required after 40 hours of work in a workweek.

The Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime rules require you to pay one-and-a-half times the employee’s hourly rate for all hours worked over 40 in any workweek, unless the employee performs work that’s considered exempt from overtime (see below).

  • Agricultural employees who are immediate family members of their employer
  • Those principally engaged on the range in the production of livestock
  • Local hand harvest laborers who commute daily from their permanent residence, are paid on a piece rate basis in traditionally piece-rated occupations, and were engaged in agriculture less than thirteen weeks during the preceding calendar year
  • Non-local minors, 16 years of age or under, who are hand harvesters, paid on a piece rate basis in traditionally piece-rated occupations, employed on the same farm as their parent, and paid the same piece rate as those over 16

Typically, growers get into trouble by not keeping and maintaining records, resulting in failing to pay overtime to employees who do not meet the definition of agriculture contained in the Act.

Employers must carefully determine whether each worker is an employee and, if so, whether they’re exempt or non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Incorrectly classifying a worker as an independent contractor when they’re really an employee may lead to liability for failure to pay for hours worked. Incorrectly classifying a non-exempt worker as exempt employee under the FLSA creates the risk of failure to pay overtime. The employer is vulnerable to claims for failure to pay for all hours worked.

Be familiar with the rules concerning agricultural employees and ensure your records are up-to-date. Call a representative from Highland Precision Ag’s compliance team to find out how we can help.

For additional Information, visit the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division Website and/or call their toll-free information and helpline, available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in your time zone, 1-866- 4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243).

Click here to download Fact Sheet #12: Agricultural Employers Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Steve Maxwell Danny Kushmer
Director of Environment, Restoration and Compliance

 

Florida Ag Department offers up to $250,000 incentive to growers

By Kevin Bouffard – The Ledger

WINTER HAVEN – The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is offering the state’s citrus growers $5.5 million over the next 10 months as an incentive to plant new groves.

The new incentive program, along with other federal, state and private incentives offered in recent years, aims to reverse the 41 percent decline in Florida’s citrus acreage since 1996. Most of the decline, 33 percent, has come since the arrival of the fatal bacterial disease citrus greening in 2005.

Growers need to plant 20 million new orange trees just to return to pre-greening levels, said Michael Sparks, the chief executive at Florida Citrus Mutual in Lakeland, the growers’ trade organization.

“It’s another great incentive,” Sparks said on Thursday. “The bottom line is: Growers now have choices.”

Incentives will help growers get a better return on their investment in planting new groves, said Tom Spreen, emeritus professor of agricultural economics at the University of Florida.

But the economics remain daunting even with incentives.

“Even at densities of 225 trees per acre, our estimated returns are quite low – in the single digits,” Spreen said. “I think a grower is looking for at least 10 percent.”

Before greening, traditional grove densities ran from 120 to 150 trees per acre. The higher densities increase the amount of fruit harvested per acre (yield), a key variable in estimating profit and rate of investment return.

The state Agriculture Department incentive program is open to growers in citrus production at least since 2008, according to information provided by the department. The proposed planting area must consist entirely of new trees in blocks of at least 10 acres.

The department is offering to cover up to 75 percent on the cost of new irrigation systems on the new or replanted grove and 100 percent on engineering and design costs. The total cost share will be capped at $250,000 per single grower or property owner.

The money also can cover separate systems for injecting liquid fertilizers or chemicals to balance soil acidity through the irrigation system. The work must be completed by June 30, the end of the state’s 2016-17 fiscal year.

The department has aimed the incentive program not only at planting new citrus trees but at improving the efficiency of water use in the new groves by supporting the latest technology, Sparks said.

“When growers plant a new grove, they recognize the concerns we all have for water use in the state of Florida,” he said.

The new program can be used in conjunction with other planting incentive programs available to citrus growers, Sparks said.

That includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Tree Assistance Program, which offers up to $120,000 to small and medium-sized growers for replacing trees lost to greening. Announced in September 2014, it has paid out $6.8 million so far for the cost of planting more than 1 million trees, Sparks said.

Later that year, Florida’s Natural Growers, the Lake Wales juice processing cooperative, offered $10 million in interest-free loans to support planting nearly 1.2 million new orange trees.

“We have been receiving applications beyond the 1 million tree offering, and the board of directors has been approving them on a case-by-case basis,” said Bob Behr, Florida’s Natural CEO. “This will likely continue.”

Growers who want to replant face a challenging economic environment, according to a study Spreen conducted with Marisa Zansler, the chief economist at the Florida Department of Citrus. Spreen is a paid consultant to the department.

The study shows growers can expect a return on investment from 3.1 percent to 3.6 percent for $8,363 cost of planting a new orange grove, depending upon the variety planted. Even at a higher density of 300 trees per acre, the return rises to just 7 percent to 7.7 percent.

“These results confirm why the industry has seen low levels of new grove development,” the study says. “The primary reasons that low (rates of return) are estimated is a combination of low per tree fruit yields and increased grove maintenance costs. Both of these factors are a consequence of (greening) and may be mitigated with scientific advancements.”

The study also found the USDA and Florida’s Natural programs have been effective in stimulating new planting.

— Kevin Bouffard can be reached at kevin.bouffard@theledger.com or at 863-401-6980. Read more on Florida citrus on his Facebook page, Florida Citrus Witness, http://bit.ly/baxWuU.

Food safety concerns raises hopes for future OJ sales

By
The Ledger

Published: Wednesday, August 24, 2016 at 6:52 p.m.
WINTER HAVEN – Florida OJ marketers have struggled to attract millennials to the beverage, primarily over concerns about sugar content, but an emerging trend in that key consumer group may bode well for future success.

That trend is concern about food safety, said Larry Ross, a marketing professor at Florida Southern College in Lakeland who tracks both millennials and the Florida citrus industry.

Recent research shows food safety as a rising concern among millennials, the generation born roughly between 1980 and 2000 that has become the biggest consumer group in the U.S., Ross said. The concern comes after stories about several safety problems last year at Chipotle Mexican Grill, a longtime millennial favorite, as well as salmonella in fresh spinach sold by Dole Fresh Vegetables, among others.

“It still doesn’t mean a love affair between millennials and orange juice,” he added. “They’re willing to pay a premium price, but it has to be relevant. Probably because it’s ‘just orange juice,’ it hasn’t found that relevant message.”

The love affair can’t start soon enough for Florida orange growers, who supply the U.S. market with most of its OJ.

Orange juice sales at major U.S. retail outlets declined 6.4 percent for the four-week period ending Aug. 6 despite a slight decrease in price, according to the latest sales report from the Florida Department of Citrus in Bartow. The average price for all 100 percent OJ products dropped to $6.56 per gallon, down 3 cents (0.4 percent) from a year earlier.

For the 2015-16 Florida citrus season that began in October, OJ sales have declined 5.2 percent on essentially no change in price.

The food safety trend among millennials remains in an early stage, Ross said. Still the concern appears to run deep enough possibly to change a core millennial belief in consuming locally sourced foods in favor of more established national brands with proven safety records.

“Small farmers cannot both ensure them and insure them about their food safety,” he said. “The naivete of locally sourced food sort of wears off. Millennials are showing a maturing standard. Your time horizon narrows when you’re approaching 40 years old as opposed to when you’re 20.”

The issue might have legs because it’s been widely reported on the internet, the millennials’ favorite media source, Ross said.

It’s having an impact already.

Ross cited a 2014 study on consumer reaction to food recalls reported in the professional journal Food Policy. It showed millennials are much more likely to react negatively to product recalls.

If it sticks, the trend would bode well for an established product such as orange juice, most of which in the U.S. comes from three established brands – Tropicana Products Inc., Minute Maid and Florida’s Natural Growers in Lake Wales – with enviable records in food safety, Ross said.

The first widely reported food safety incident involving OJ came in June 1995, when 63 visitors to Walt Disney World in Orlando were sickened by salmonella in fresh-squeezed, unpasteurized orange juice. Subsequent outbreaks, including a 1999 case involving OJ from an Arizona company that sickened 207 people and a 2005 case harming 15 people, also involved unpasteurized OJ contaminated with salmonella.

Virtually all the OJ sold in the U.S., including all products sold by the three top brands, are pasteurized.

Officials at the Citrus Department, a state agency charged with promoting Florida citrus products, acknowledge they struggle with the sugar content issue, particularly among millennials.

A millennial orange grower – Kyle Story, 34, an executive in his family’s Lake Wales citrus company – said he talks to his cohorts all the time about their concerns about sugar and OJ.

“I tell them a serving size (eight ounces) of orange juice dwarfs any fruit juice you can buy in terms of vitamin C, folic acid and potassium,” Story said. “As a grower, I’m telling my story and the benefits of orange juice, and however they want to take it, it’s a true story.”

Story agreed he and other millennials prefer locally sourced products and, if not available, at least U.S. products. That’s because millennials are more interested than past generations about where their food comes from and how it contributes to health.

“I think locally grown, knowing where a product comes from and doing the research, that’s a trend that will continue,” he said.

Story, who has a 4-month-old son, agreed with Ross that the food safety issue is becoming relevant with older millennials starting families and that OJ can take advantage of it.

“As a product, we go above and beyond any law today as far as food safety goes,” he said. “You cannot lose public trust in what you’re producing.”

The Citrus Department report also showed sales of grapefruit juice, also primarily a Florida product, performing better than OJ.

Sales for the four weeks ending Aug. 6, sales of 100 percent grapefruit juice declined just 1 percent on a 1.4 percent decline in price to an average $7.38 per gallon during that period. For the 2015-16 season, U.S. grapefruit juice sales have declined 3.4 percent on a flat price.

With less than two months remaining in the season, juice processors have sold 398 million gallons of orange juice at U.S. supermarkets and other retail outlets and 12.25 million gallons of grapefruit juice.

— Kevin Bouffard can be reached at kevin.bouffard@theledger.com or at 863-401-6980. Read more on Florida citrus on his Facebook page, Florida Citrus Witness, http://bit.ly/baxWuU.

UF Researchers Improving Mandarins

In their quest to develop higher quality mandarins, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers are zeroing in on the traits that will help them breed the best fruit.  Last year, they released the mandarin cultivar currently known as ‘7-6-27,’ which UF/IFAS researchers say is soaring with interest, and with more than 100,000 trees already ordered.

In a newly published study, Fred Gmitter, a UF/IFAS horticultural sciences professor, and his colleagues, including doctoral student Yuan Yu, found genetic markers for fruit quality traits that will be useful in future cultivar-breeding efforts. Scientists wanted to know whether, for example, genetic markers – or “signposts,” as Gmitter calls them — for qualitative and quantitative traits in one group of mandarins lined up with these traits in other mandarins. Qualitative traits would be such things as peel or flesh color, while quantitative traits would include weight, size or shape.

In this study, the markers developed in one mandarin family predicted the fruit quality traits in 13 other unrelated varieties, Gmitter said. Without this process, researchers might have had to plant and grow 250 or more trees to maturity — a process that takes several years — to find a single one that has all the genetic characteristics they want in a new variety, Gmitter said. The study’s findings translate to good news for consumers and growers, he said.  “Better fruit for consumers, from Florida growers, for a longer period of time,” said Gmitter, a faculty member at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida. “Though growers will still have to wait for the new varieties to be selected, we will be producing even better ones than if we didn’t have these markers to use.”

The fruit – popularly known as tangerines — might even be less expensive because it’s closer to the market – not importing from Spain or trucking them across the country from California, Gmitter said. That would be helpful to Florida growers and consumers because amid the steady increase of fresh mandarin consumption—1.39 pound per capita in 1991 to 4.17 pounds in 2012 — Florida’s share of the market has decreased. California now dominates the market, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

In addition to cutting costs, Gmitter can already see another potential advantage to using genetic markers to breed better mandarins in the future. “Imagine if we could also develop markers for phytonutrients, those things in the citrus fruit that improve human health; we could then breed simultaneously for better-looking, better-tasting, and healthier mandarins,” he said.

The study is published in the journal Tree Genetics and Genomes, http://bit.ly/2avr6w3.

Orange Juice Production Continues to Decline

Orange Juice Production Continues to Decline
USAgNet – 08/10/2016

U.S. orange juice production peaked during the 1997/98 season at 1,555 million gallons, but has trended lower since then to only 533 million sse gallons expected for the 2015/16 season.

The production decline reflects many factors, including the increased prevalence of diseases such as citrus canker and citrus greening, as well as pressures from urbanization in parts of Florida that have reduced the area devoted to citrus production.

The United States has been a net importer of orange juice for the entire period of analysis. Exports of orange juice have remained fairly constant over time, whereas imports have increased in recent years, but not by enough to compensate for the decline in U.S. production.

As a result, orange juice availability per capita (a proxy for consumption) has trended lower as well, falling from a peak of 6.27 gallons in the 1997/98 season to a forecast low of 2.74 gallons in 2015/16.

The decline in orange juice consumption over the past decade is consistent with trends that have also been observed for other types of fruit juice and caloric soft drinks in the United States.

Congress Passes GMO Labeling Rules

In a victory for food companies, Congress has passed a federal requirement for labeling products made with genetically modified organisms that will supersede tougher measures passed by one state and considered in others.

The bill will require labels to be reworked or updated to show whether any of the ingredients had their natural DNA altered, but will take years to phase in and will give companies the option of using straightforward language, digital codes or a symbol to be designed later.

The terms are in contrast to a law that went into effect in July in Vermont. That law required food manufacturers and grocers selling prepared foods explicitly to label items that contained GMO ingredients by January. Companies that violate the law face fines of up to $1,000 a day.

The compromise federal bill, which passed in the Senate last week and passed 306-117 in the House of Representatives on Thursday, is a likely relief for manufacturers, farm groups and biotechnology companies. A White House spokeswoman said the administration anticipated signing the bill in its current form.

GMOs, used in the U.S. for about two decades with federal approval, are crops whose genes have been engineered to make them resistant to pests, better able to withstand drought and otherwise hardier. Federal regulators have approved the GMO seeds on the market, but critics say they can hurt the environment and rely on herbicides that could harm consumers.

The vast majority of corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association trade group estimates that 70% to 80% of foods eaten in the U.S. contain ingredients that have been genetically modified.

The White House has stoked controversy in mandating more disclosure of added sugar and highlighting calorie counties on food labels, but the push for labeling of GMO ingredients has been fueled by a consumer backlash over their widespread use.

Critics of the new federal bill passed on Thursday say few customers will click on the digital QR codes displayed on labels by manufacturers who choose to use that method.

A study this year by the Food Marketing Institute industry group found that only 20% of shoppers scan a digital code on grocery items to learn more about their nutritional content. Some manufacturers already use digital codes on their labels, and the bill allows them to update the information they include without having to reprint their labels.

But Stonyfield Farm, a yogurt company that lobbied against the compromise bill, studied the use of QR codes for its products but found they were too cumbersome, said Britt Lundgren, a director at the New Hampshire company. “They are grossly inadequate,” she said. Stonyfield doesn’t use GMO ingredients and has lobbied for tougher rules.

The new federal legislation gives regulators up to two years to write rules for the industry to follow nationwide in terms of labeling engineered ingredients, and small food manufactures would have three years to comply.

It also requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to evaluate the effectiveness of digital symbols a year after the law is implemented. The food industry has been in regulatory fights over GMO disclosure on labels for years. The earlier win for the pro-labeling movement in Vermont had sent food manufacturers and grocers scrambling.

Northeastern grocery chain Price Chopper, owned by New York-based Golub Corp., redesigned and labeled 7,000 store brands carried in its 135 stores across six states to comply with Vermont’s law, an undertaking that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, a spokeswoman said.

The law has proven particularly confusing for grocers who must check multiple ingredients for GMOs in prepared foods and figure out the best way to display the information, said Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association. “There’s a lot of questions about how this all works,” he said.

 

 

Brazilian Citrus Crop Down

Glass half full… is an orange juice shortage on the cards?
Brazilian orange juice production and exports will drop sharply to 26-year lows, due to widespread heat damage to the crop, US officials said.

The USDA’s Sao Paolo bureau slashed its ideas of production in the world’s largest orange juice exporter, citing hot dry weather last year.

“The Sao Paulo [state] commercial citrus belt was negatively affected by usually hot temperatures during fruit setting,” the bureau said.

Significant damage

The Brazilian orange crop over the year to July 2017 is forecast at 351.7m 40.8 kilograms boxes, down 14% from the previous crop.

The bureau cited “weather-related problems during blossoming and fruit setting”.

“In spite of the good and steady blossoming from late August through October, the higher than normal temperatures during September and October significantly damaged fruit setting, thus reducing production potential,” said the bureau.

Much lower orange juice

And the knock on effect will be much lower orange juice production.

The bureau saw Brazilian orange juice production, which is primarily frozen concentrate orange juice (FCOJ), at just 885,000 tonnes in the year to July 2017.

This is an 11% drop-year-on-year.

The bureau’s forecast represents a trim of 207,000 tonnes from the USDA’s official forecast.

And exports will also plunge as well, down 22% year on year.

Brazilian is by far the world’s largest exporter of FCOJ, making up roughly three-quarters of world exports.

Supply tightens

If the Sao Paolo bureau’s forecasts are borne out, it would suggest a massively tighter world supply and demand balance than the official USDA figures show.

Based on consumption forecasts for the current year, the shortfall in Brazilian production would wipe nearly 8 weeks’ worth of supply from the world market.

The stocks-to-use ratio, a key measure of fundamentals, has been shrinking rapidly in the orange juice market, more than halving over the last four years, to 20%.

July FCOJ futures in New York hit a four-year high of 172.50 cents a pound earlier this month.

Futures have weakened since then, and are trading down 1.1% in morning deals in New York, at 163.00 cents a pound.