A new marketing and research group has consolidated the California cherry industry into one voice, says Chiles Wilson, chair of the new organization that became effective in early April.
The California Cherry Marketing and Research Program supersedes the California Cherry Advisory Board, which had represented growers of Bing, Rainier, Van, and Lambert cherries since 1993. The advisory board was fragmented, said Wilson, a principal of Rivermaid Trading Company in Lodi.
“Too much of the industry was not being represented through the advisory board,” he said during a phone interview with Good Fruit Grower. When the advisory board was first organized, the state had four main varieties grown mostly in the northern part of the San Joaquin Valley. Since then, early varieties, like Brooks and Tulare and others more suited to the hot climate of the southern San Joaquin Valley, have spurred planting throughout central California to the point that the board represented less than half the state’s cherry production.
Wilson said that a main focus of the new group will be a robust research program, one that includes all varieties. In the past, research efforts were limited to varieties represented by the advisory board. The new group also will be involved with issues that deal with invasive pests, such as monitoring, eradication, and research.
In the past, the advisory board and the Northwest Cherry Growers collaborated on research projects that looked at the health benefits of sweet cherries.
A major difference between the old and new group is in the area of marketing and promotions. The new organization will not be involved in promotion activities—domestic or foreign—that are generic and promote generic California cherries, Wilson explained. “Marketing departments of cherry packers in the state have matured to the point that promotional and marketing activities are now privatized by individual marketers,” he said.
In export markets, he said the new group will go after federal Market Access Program funds to match industry monies to be used for market development, nontariff trade barrier issues, pesticide maximum residue limits, and more.
A continuation referendum of the advisory board was needed this spring, but instead, the state’s 740 growers and 18 packers were asked to vote on creation of a new organization to represent all cherry production in the state. Of the 422 growers voting, 84 percent, representing 85 percent of the volume, were in favor of the program. Of the 15 packers voting, 93 percent were in favor and they represented about 95 percent of the volume. To pass, 40 percent of the growers and packers needed to vote and 65 percent of those voting, representing 51 percent of the volume, had to be in favor.
Wilson was pleased with the high percentage of support shown in the vote. “It passed very well,” he said, adding that the vote was a result of explaining the concept to all growers in the state.
A board of six packers and six growers appointed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture administers the program. In addition to Wilson’s election as chair, Jeff Colombini was elected secretary-treasurer. Colombini had served as chair of the Advisory Board. Chris Zanobini of Ag Association Management Services in Sacramento is manager. Zanobini manages the California Pear Advisory Board, among others.
Growers and packers will evenly split the cost of the program, each contributing half of the 15 cents per 18-pound box assessment.
As of press time for Good Fruit Grower, an official estimate of the 2012 California cherry crop was unavailable. Industry sources say the southern part of the state appears to have a light crop because of a lack of chilling hours. There are reports of damage from a major storm that swept through the state April 12 that brought hail and heavy rain to some of the San Joaquin Valley’s fruit orchards.