Growers vote down 70-year-old tree fruit marketing order program
By DAN WHEAT
The California Grape and Tree Fruit League may pick up some of the slack following the demise of the California Tree Fruit Agreement.
The league may expand work on stone fruit trade issues and may coordinate, but not fund, research, said Barry Bedwell, president of the League in Fresno.
The league also might offer crisis management in the case of a food-borne illness, he said.
"We want to take it slowly and understand what members in the industry really need," he said.
The California Tree Fruit Agreement in Reedley ceased operations last October after growers defeated two referenda the agreement needed to continue administering federal marketing orders for peaches and nectarines. The affiliated California Plum Marketing Board decided to dissolve and will wrap up an audit and return leftover funds to growers by the end of March.
The number of growers, packers, shippers and marketers of California stone fruit has shrunk in recent years.
"With consolidation shippers feel they don't need an industry voice for promotions," said Michael Reimer, vice president of marketing of Brandt Farms, a large grower-packer-shipper in Reedley.
"A lot of people in the industry feel strongly about research and crisis management, which may go to the league or some other organization," Reimer said. "But generic promotions is where people lost interest."
Companies like his prefer targeting promotions with specific retailers, he said.
The California Tree Fruit Agreement operated on about a $6 million annual budget with roughly $3.5 million of that from grower assessments. It received $2.5 million in federal Market Access Program money for export promotions. That money has been reallocated other places, including $250,000 to the Washington State Fruit Commission for first-time stone fruit export promotions.
The tree fruit agreement set grade and pack standards which have now devolved to lower-level minimums set in California agriculture code, said Gary Van Sickle, president of the plum board and former president of the tree fruit agreement.
The tree fruit agreement no longer funds research or category analysis and no one estimates annual crop volume or tracks packouts industrywide, he said.
The California Tree Fruit Agreement began in 1933. Some 70 years of its research reports are being archived by the University of California.