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California’s peach and nectarine growers have resoundingly approved passage of a new state marketing order that they hope will be more flexible and responsive to their needs than their current federal marketing order.

The industry’s existing federal marketing order is overseen by the USDA and managed by the Reedley, Calif.-based California Tree Fruit Agreement. The new state marketing order will fall under the auspices of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

While the industry has yet to meet to approve how the new state-level marketing order will function and be structured, sources said most components will likely continue to operate under management of the CTFA.

The CTFA was established in 1933 to manage the stone fruit federal marketing orchards, which are the oldest marketing orders in the federal system. It conducts domestic and overseas marketing and promotional activities, manages and funds production, postharvest and handling research and oversees grade and quality standards established by the industry for peaches and nectarines. It also analyzes and disseminates information and market intelligence for the industry.

In 2005, the California Stone Fruit Coalition, a grower cooperative representing about three-fourths of the state’s volume, was formed to press the creation of a new state marketing order to replace the existing federal marketing order.

Frustration

Coalition Chair Dean Thonesen said growers, packers, and shippers have been increasingly frustrated with the amount of time it takes to implement changes to grades and standards, inspections, and other aspects of the federal program that needed to be updated to address changing times in the industry.

“The impetus for coming together was really to make this marketing order more responsive to industry needs,” Thonesen said. “Because of USDA’s rules and how they work, their response time was so slow it felt like they were unresponsive.”

Thonesen, who is vice president of Sunwest Fruit Company in Parlier, said the industry has evolved over the last 10 years, and the federal program has been slow to assimilate different pack styles, electronic sizing equipment, and other innovations.

“It hasn’t kept up with where the industry has moved to and we needed a marketing order to be more reflective of what the industry needs are,” he said. “The logical move was to go to a state marketing order where changes could be done much more efficiently and in a quicker timeline.”

Thonesen said there will still be an inspection process under the state marketing order, but one that is more streamlined and better accommodates the needs of the industry.

The new state marketing order provides authority for promotion and research and creates a framework for a system of grades, standards, and inspections.

With a more flexible state-level marketing order, the industry could elect to quickly implement changes, including making fruit inspections a voluntary component of the marketing order.

Industry turnout for the new state marketing order vote was high, with about 60 percent of the state’s growers returning ballots during a March referendum. By comparison, 14 percent of the growers voted in a referendum two years ago to continue the federal program.

Large numbers voted

About 85 percent of voting growers, representing more than 90 percent of the state’s volume of fresh market peaches and nectarines, approved the formation of the new state marketing order.

“This referendum was very well supported by the industry,” said Blair Richardson, CFTA president. “Results showed overwhelming support for this new program. That’s largely reflective of the time and energy the industry spent on structuring this new program and the industry’s need for greater flexibility.”

The coalition had hoped to get passage of the new state marketing order in time to develop the program for the 2006 season. However, Thonesen said results came in too late to get an effective program established for this year.

Federal peach and nectarine marketing orders will continue to operate in 2006 under management of the California Tree Fruit Agreement.

Thonesen said the state program for peaches and nectarines will likely be structured similarly to the state plum marketing order and remain under the auspices of CTFA.

In 1990, the state’s plum growers voted themselves out of the federal program amid industry upheaval and three years later formed a state marketing order, which is also now administered by CTFA. The California Plum Board has a provision that allows the government to suspend inspections at industry request.

An initial slate of 12 committee members for both peaches and nectarines will be appointed for one- or two-year terms by the secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, based on a recommendations from the industry. Committees will begin meeting in early fall to formulate a program for the 2007 growing and marketing season, Richardson said.