New program to focus on research, trade, policy issues

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

California cherry growers and packers have approved a new marketing order and industry organization on the cusp of their 2012 season.

A new California Cherry Marketing and Research Program in Sacramento replaced the California Cherry Advisory Board in Lodi on March 31.

The new organization will provide programs for all fresh cherry varieties, about 20, grown in California while the old marketing order covered only Bing, Rainier, Van and Lambert cherries, said Chris Zanobini, the program's new director. He also is executive director of the California Pear Advisory Board. All varieties include about 30,000 acres versus 10,000 acres for the four varieties, he said.

The new program will concentrate more on research, trade, opening export markets and policy issues and less on market promotions, Zanobini said.

The old Cherry Advisory Board supported its replacement, figuring a renewal referendum for the old programs and just four varieties probably would not pass, he said.

The new program's first board meeting of six growers and six packers was set for April 6.

Growers and packers approved the new program in separate referenda.

A total of 422 (57 percent) of growers who received ballots voted and of them 355 (84 percent) voted for the new program, representing 85 percent of the volume, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

On the packer side, 15, or 83 percent voted, and those voting in favor represent 93 percent of all voters and 95 percent of the volume, the department said.

Assessments, now based on greater volume, go from 40 cents a box to 15 cents a box, Zanobini said. Half the amount remains on the growers and half on packers, he said.

A new proposed budget of about $900,000 will be about half the old budget, he said. About one-third will go for research, one-third for trade and market access and one-third for operations including data collection, statistics and public relations, he said.

California usually produces about 8.5 million, 18-pound boxes of fresh cherries annually. Harvest runs from the end of April to mid-June, dovetailing with the mid-June start of the larger Pacific Northwest crop.

Last year rain destroyed about one-third of the California crop, leaving the final count at 6.1 million boxes.

Weather is always a concern but labor is an increasing concern, Zanobini said. Pickers are staying where they are and moving with the harvest less because of greater immigration enforcement, he said.

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