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Charles Walker, managing director of the National Peach Council since the early 1990s, stepped down in September after serving the industry for more than 17 years, and Kay Rentzel, a veteran of the apple industry, was hired in December as the new managing director of the council, it was announced Jan. 26.

Mr. Walker started working with the U.S. peach industry approximately 24 years ago when he was hired as the manager of the South Carolina Peach Board, which was a newly formed state marketing order for peaches. In 1992, he became involved with the National Peach Council when he approached the council on re-starting the Peach Times newsletter, which had been discontinued in 1988. The council agreed, and the publication continues today and is considered by many peach growers to be "the glue that holds the council together," according to the Jan. 26 announcement.

In 1994, Earl Smittcamp of Wawona Frozen Foods in Clovis, CA, contacted Mr. Walker and proposed that the council work with California freezers in a manner that would benefit U.S. peach growers and the freezers. The freezers were looking for a national umbrella organization to work with and were willing to provide some financial assistance to the National Peach Council in exchange for enabling the two groups to work together.

Mr. Walker took Mr. Smittcamp's proposal to the council's executive committee, and in 1995, at the Southeastern Peach Convention in Savannah, GA, Mr. Walker arranged for a meeting between the council and the freezers. This meeting resulted in the beginning of the joint venture in 1995 between the council and the freezers - a venture that is now entering its 15th consecutive year.

This venture has been beneficial to both groups and has strengthened the National Peach Council. The focus of the joint venture enabled the council to lobby Congress and other federal agencies on issues of importance to U.S. peach growers, and at the same time, lobby Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the need for, and the importance of, purchasing increased quantities of fresh frozen freestone peaches in times of anticipated market gluts.

Additionally, Mr. Walker was instrumental in working with the peach industry in lobbying Congress and other governmental entities in fighting the loss and proposed label restrictions for key peach pesticides, for more favorable crop insurance programs, for more favorable farm labor programs, for more funding for peach production research and most recently for a farm bill that would be favorable to peach growers and those in the peach industry.

Mr. Walker, known for his mastery of facts and figures, started the publication of the Peach Statistical Yearbook in 1999, which is one of the more comprehensive publications on historical peach industry statistics available. He also for a number of years has published a national crop report in the spring issue of the Peach Times, which has become instrumental in working with the USDA on purchases of frozen freestone peaches.

Mr. Walker stepped down from the council to spend more time with his wife, Precy; they will continue to reside in Columbia, SC. He will continue to represent two other produce clients: the Prince Edward Island Potato Board and the U.S. Sweet Potato Council.

National Peach Council President Phil Neary said that while Mr. Walker will be missed, Ms. Rentzel brings a great deal of knowledge and experience of the domestic fruit industry that will be an asset to the National Peach Council and its mission.

Ms. Rentzel has assumed Mr. Walker's role, which includes industry advocacy, industry crop statistics and reporting, quarterly newsletter publishing, and industry leadership development.

Ms. Rentzel has more than 25 years of apple industry experience, working previously for the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Board, the state checkoff program; and Knouse Foods Cooperative Inc., an apple processor based in Adams County, PA. She currently manages the National Apple Month program for the U.S. Apple Association.

The new mailing address and contact information for the National Peach Council is 22 Triplett Court, Dillsburg, PA 17019; tel. 717/432-0090; fax 717/432-2200. Ms. Rentzel can be reached by e-mail at ksrentzel@aol.com.