The Fruit and Vegetable Programs of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is intensifying its educational outreach campaign to the industry and consumers.

Customers regularly refer to the Fruit and Vegetable Programs as the “best-kept secret in the produce business” because valuable resources are often underutilized.  The program maintains a lot of beneficial information for the industry, but we had to find different ways to present it.  To improve transparency, we embarked on a communication campaign that now offers an industry newsletter, a series of webinars, and enhancements to our website.

The campaign educates consumers and produce industry advocates about available services, connects people with key personnel, and opens up lines of communication with the general public.

The newsletter gives the produce industry vital updates concerning their programs.  In one issue, readers learned about plans to expand a popular fresh apple program in schools.  In addition to getting updates about programs, the newsletter familiarizes readers with Fruit and Vegetable Programs’ personnel.  Branch chiefs regularly inform readers how their programs are adapting to respond to industry needs.

A series of webinars enables participants to interact with key personnel and ask poignant questions.  The topics have covered a variety of issues that affect the produce industry, including selling produce to the USDA and the benefits of having fresh products inspected.  The webinars have been a huge success; the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program webinar held in December had nearly 400 participants.

Customers can also benefit from an enhanced Web site.  Narrated presentations and other updates give users a better perspective about the programs’ services.  In addition, all of the webinars are available in our on-line library.

A crucial component of the campaign is encouraging mutual dialogue between individuals and AMS personnel.  By opening up lines of communication, AMS hopes to gain insight that can only come from a variety of perspectives.  Many of the newsletter articles have come from reader suggestions and we continue to solicit new ideas.  Likewise, webinar participants can offer comments and pose questions to the AMS presenters.

USDA will continue its free educational webinar series by hosting the Fruit and Vegetable Market News Portal Training – How to Get the Most Out of USDA’s Market News Reports and Information. This next installment will air on Feb. 24, 2011, at 2 p.m. ET. Patty Willkie, officer-in-charge of the Idaho Falls Market News office, will lead the discussion.  We encourage you to read this article and visit our Market News site before participating in the webinar.

To register for the webinar click here.  The deadline to register is Feb. 21.  For questions about the webinar, please send an email to FVInfo@ams.usda.gov.  We would like to hear your thoughts about the webinar so please share your ideas at our Open Gov site.