NWA holds 106th annual ‘family reunion’

ORLANDO, FL — National Watermelon Association Executive Director Bob Morrissey likes to refer to the organization’s annual convention as a “family reunion,” when the industry gathers to enjoy fellowship and have some fun, of course while conducting business.

This year, the watermelon “family” came out in full force for the NWA’s 106th annual convention, held Feb. 19-23 at the Disney Yacht Club Resort, here. Morrissey said attendance for the convention was 611, setting a new record.morrisseyBob Morrissey, executive director of the National Watermelon Association, gave his State of the Industry address Feb. 22 during the NWA’s 106th annual convention in Orlando, FL. Photo by John Groh.

In addressing his membership during his annual State of the Industry address, Morrissey said the NWA kicked off 2020 with a new mission statement, “Shaping the Watermelon Industry for Future Generations,” which will be the association’s new mantra going forward.

“The last time we updated our mission statement was in the 1980s when the National Watermelon Promotion Board was created,” he said. “We felt like it was about time that we did it again.”

He also applauded the work being done on behalf of the industry by the Center for Produce Safety, and said that the NWA would continue its support for CPS. “That is the only organization that conducts research specific to food safety, and that is so important. It is no longer a question but a requirement.”

He urged industry members to do their own due diligence in seeking out an appropriate food safety audit firm. “Start asking questions and look around. There is more out there than just Primus,” he said. “WQS is another one that comes to mind.”

Grade standards
Morrissey said another initiative the NWA was undertaking is the updating of grade standards.

“With the help of Leger & Son, we discovered that the grade standards are very outdated and don’t conform to industry needs,” he said. “We are now putting together a grade standards committee that will be enacted in three phases.

First, the committee will approve updated visual aids to show different levels of quality. The NWA now has 12 different photos approved and posted on its website, with the goal of updating the entire library by mid summer.

The second phase involves reaching out to membership to solicit feedback on the grading standards and improvements that can be made.

Finally, the NWA wants to advance the Future Watermelon Farm Leaders and it is inviting all members companies to open their doors to offer educational and experiential experience to young industry members so they can learn, grow and expand their knowledge.

The NWA Executive Committee is also spearheading a new project to offer the Research Committee the ability to post its research projects on a central database on the NWA website that will be open to the public. He also noted that Paul Teague has retired as chairman of the Research Committee and will be replaced by Lee Wroten of Global Produce Sales Inc.

Political action
Morrissey said that while NWA has had a political action committee for some time, it has lacked direction in recent years and he felt the need to rectify that. He announced that Greg Leger of Leger & Son has stepped up as chairman of the PAC and will lead the new direction forward.

“This is very important, as we must have partners in Washington, DC, in order to get things done,” he said.

Among the items on NWA’s political agenda is the need for a labor bill from the senate that works for the industry. “We’ll be looking for industry support on this and we’ll be urging everyone to contact their senators to voice their support,” he said.

Trucking regulations are another important point for the industry, and Morrissey said the electric logging device rules are looking favorable, but NWA is continuing to monitor them and will press for more changes.

With the Food Safety Modernization Act approaching its ninth anniversary, Morrissey said the NWA believes it “needs a tune up, as there are things we have learned that don’t work, such as the definition of ‘farm’,” he said.

He also mentioned that a group in the Southeast is looking at the new USMCA that replaced NAFTA to see where the shortfalls lie for the watermelon industry.

“We have a portal on our website that enables industry members to contact their senators,” he said. “We also have templates of letters that members can revise or use as they are to send in support of issues important to the watermelon industry.”

Marketing changes
Morrissey said this year the NWA would be redefining its annual marketing award to recognize the company that conducted the best promotion and did the best job with watermelon, whether it is a retailer, wholesaler or distributor.

“July is National Watermelon Month, which is a huge opportunity to promote,” he said. “But we have 15 states shipping during that period and prices are at their lowest.”

Looking forward, Morrissey said in the next two to three years, he would like to see the grade standards updated and evaluated every year, and he would like to have a global database for watermelons in place.

He said it is important for the industry to stay ahead of the curve. “Last year, I had the opportunity to hear Daymond John of FUBU and Shark Tank speak, and he was remarkable,” said Morrissey. “The main takeaway was that it is important to try new things, to do your homework and keep swimming, and to adapt to change. I think those are very relevant points for what we are trying to do.”

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