Program would be funded by 1 cent per pound assessment
By STEVE BROWN
Growers and importers are voting on whether to establish a National Raspberry Council, to be funded by an assessment of 1 cent per pound.
Those who produced or imported 20,000 pounds of raspberries in 2010 have until June 24 to vote. Of the approximately 130 raspberry growers eligible to vote on the referendum, more than 80 are in Whatcom County, Wash.
The Washington Red Raspberry Commission proposed the nationwide program, officially called the Processed Raspberry Promotion, Research and Information Order.
Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington commission, said more promotion efforts are needed to deal with the influx of imported berries.
"Over the last five years (2005-09) we are consistently seeing over 40 percent of the frozen raspberries consumed in the U.S. coming from offshore," he said.
Darryl Ehlers, who grows raspberries and blueberries near Lynden, Wash., said, "It's totally a world market. You can't be a protectionist. Having a national council made a world of difference for blueberries."
Ehlers emphasized that only processing raspberries are affected.
"Fresh-market sales help all other sales," he said. "I'm not offended by any fresh-market fruit that comes in."
Bierlink emphasized several points about the vote:
* A positive vote will not affect 2011 assessments for U.S. producers. Assessments would start to be collected in the late fall, affecting Chilean fruit first.
* The Washington commission will consider an assessment "holiday" or a lower assessment for 2012 and beyond so the effect of the new national assessment will not be so dramatic.
* Nearly half the assessments for the new council will come from foreign competitors. "U.S. grower investment doubles and the days of using non-assessed raspberries to drive down domestic prices will be over," Beierlink said.
* The council will require confirmation every five years. "If it is not doing the job you can vote it out," he said.
Raspberry grower Adam Enfield, chairman of the commission, said a priority is to increase demand by educating consumers about the health and taste attributes of raspberries.
"Many people do not know they can buy individually frozen raspberries in the grocery store," he said. "They also do not realize that they are frozen at the peak of their ripeness and frozen within hours of being picked, capturing all of the flavor and nutrition."
Capital Press reporter Mitch Lies contributed to this report.