FOLSOM, Calif. — The Golden State’s roughly 4,500 walnut growers will have a chance to vote in the coming weeks on whether to continue the California Walnut Board’s production research and other projects.
The USDA was set to mail ballots March 31 in a referendum on the federal marketing order that maintains the 66-year-old board, whose vast duties range from varietal development and pest control to domestic marketing and inspection oversight.
The board works in tandem with the California Walnut Commission, which does international marketing and funds health research and will not be affected by the vote.
The referendum is the board’s first since governance changes took effect in 2008, explained Dennis Balint, the board’s executive director who also serves as the commission’s chief executive officer.
“You never take anything for granted,” Balint said of the vote.
The board has the support of the Roseville, Calif.-based Walnut Bargaining Association, which negotiates prices for growers. The WBA asserts that many growers credit the walnut board for much of the industry’s recent success, as California is experiencing an all-time high price per pound and an all-time high crop size.
“We certainly hope that the order will continue, and continue to provide tangible benefits to walnut growers,” WBA general manager Jonathan Field said in an email. “In my experience with federal and state marketing programs, the big issue may be complacency and growers not taking the time to cast their votes.”
Ballots must be returned by mail and postmarked no later than April 19.
The USDA required a grower referendum on the board’s work every six years as part of changes necessitated when Diamond Foods switched from a cooperative to a corporation in 2005, Balint said.
“Specifically, at the time there was language in there that gave certain consideration to a co-op that handled a certain share of the crop, and when the co-op no longer existed the order wasn’t applicable, so we had to make changes,” he said.
While growers pay handlers a penny per pound of in-shell walnuts to support the commission, the California Department of Food and Agriculture sends monthly bills to handlers to collect the $1.89-per-kernel-hundredweight assessment that supports the board, Balint said.
In 2012, producers rejected a proposal to raise the maximum assessment for the commission to 1.75 cents per pound. But Field expects this vote to be successful, he said.
“There are no changes to the basic program and, since the industry is doing well, it should pass,” he said.
California Walnuts: http://www.walnuts.org/walnuts/