By MITCH LIES

Capital Press

For the second time in four years, the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council is seeking an assessment increase.

The USDA on May 20 published the proposed order in the Federal Register seeking an increase from the current $12 a ton assessed for highbush blueberry production to $18 a ton.

The USDA rejected a similar request in 2009.

In a letter to USDA justifying the increase, the USHBC said it hopes to use additional funding generated by the increase to fund “extensive and expensive” human health research.

In the letter, the USHBC said it expects that at $18 a ton, the assessment will generate $8.1 million by 2015, as compared to $5.4 million at the current rate.

The council noted in the letter that as blueberry acreage continues to increase, so does a need for higher per-capita domestic consumption.

The council stated that blueberry production acreage increased more than 55 percent between 2005 and 2010, growing from 71,075 acres in 2005 to 110,290 acres in 2010.

Production increased from 237 million pounds in 2002 to 559 million pounds in 2012, according to the council.

The council also plans to use future assessments to expand its overseas marketing, according to the letter, and to continue to promote blueberries to the food service and food manufacturing industries. Included in overseas marketing plans is a $100,000 marketing campaign in South Korea, a market that recently opened to Oregon fresh blueberries.

It is the human health research, however, that is driving the need for the assessment increase, according to the council.

Assessment dollars by law are limited to research and promotion uses.

The USDA rejected the 2009 request after receiving multiple letters from individual producers objecting to the increase, according to Doug Krahmer, treasurer of the USHBC and an Oregon producers.

Krahmer said he was told the individual-producer letters carried the same weight as letters in support of the proposed increase from associations representing multiple producers.

This time, he said, the council is encouraging each grower to submit comments.

“We would like to see every grower send in a letter to USDA telling them what they think, whether they support or oppose the assessment increase, and we think we’re going to win,” Krahmer said.

Comment deadline is July 19.

The earliest the assessment could take effect would be the 2014 crop year, Krahmer said.

Comments can be mailed to Promotion and Economics Division; Fruit and Vegetable Program; AMS, USDA; 1400 Independence Ave. SW.

Room 1406-S, Stop 0244; Washington, D.C. 20250-0244.

Comments also can be emailed to www.regulations.gov or faxed to 202-205-2800.

Comments should reference the document number: AMS-FV-12-0062.

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