Cherry growers vote this month to continue or end a federal marketing order that regulates handling of sweet cherries grown in designated counties in Washington State. Regulations require that a continuation referendum be held once every six years.

Federal Marketing Order 923, established in 1957, authorizes minimum grade, size, maturity, pack, and container regulations for Washington sweet cherries as well as mandatory inspection requirements. The Washington Cherry Marketing Committee, a 16-member committee of growers and handlers selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, oversees activities of the marketing order and provides industry with a voice to discuss grade, pack, and handling regulations. The Cherry Marketing Committee is administered by the ­Washington State Fruit Commission.

Cherry Marketing Committee Chair Norm Gutzwiler, a grower from Wenatchee, said that an important function of the marketing order is the authority to track the type of containers that are shipped to market each season. Collecting shipment data allows industry to track shipping trends and develop 20-pound-box equivalent data.

“The order also gives industry the flexibility to make changes to minimum standards before each season to reflect natural diseases or widespread weather events.” Fruit must still meet federal standards.

The voting period is November 5-18. To vote, growers must have grown sweet cherries in designated counties (Okanogan, Chelan, Kittitas, Yakima, and all counties lying east thereof) from April 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011. Growers will receive a ballot in the mail from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; ballots must be postmarked by November 18 to be counted.

Qualified growers who don’t receive a ballot by the first week of November should contact Cheryl Ringering at the Cherry Marketing Committee at (509) 453-4837.