The Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on March 17 published in the Federal Register an interim final rule with request for comments for a change in the marketing order grade standards under the California Desert Grape Administrative Committee, which growers said will facilitate packing two-pound clamshells.
Officially, as stated in the Federal Register, the proposed change in the existing rule "relaxes the one-quarter-pound minimum bunch size requirement for the 2009 season for grapes packed in containers holding two pounds net weight or less. Under the relaxation, up to 20 percent of the weight of such containers may consist of single, unattached stems or clusters of at least five berries each. This action provides California desert grape handlers and importers the flexibility to respond to a marketing opportunity on a test basis for one season to meet consumer needs."
The comment period began March 20 and will continue through May 18. Comments received by that date "will be considered prior to issuance of a final rule."
Robert (Bobby) Bianco, vice president of Anthony Vineyards Inc. in Bakersfield, CA, which also has operations in Coachella, CA, told The Produce News that the proposed change in the standards is "not at all" controversial. "There was 100 percent support for it," he said.
In fact, the new rule will allow desert grape growers to give customers the kind of pack they want, he said. "If what they want is a two-pounder, that is what you are going to give them."
Allowing smaller clusters in the pack is necessary when packing a two-pound clamshell, he explained, because grape bunches don't naturally grow the right size to fill a two-pound clamshell without either trimming off some clusters or adding some smaller clusters to the pack.
The rule change will affect grapes imported from Mexico because imported grapes must also comply with that marketing order's standards during the desert grape season.
Other grape-producing districts in California "don't have a regulation" on cluster size in clamshells to begin with, he said. "They could always put smaller clusters in. We are the only ones that couldn't because of our marketing order."
Rick Paul, category manager for Sun World International, also headquartered in Bakersfield with operations in Coachella, concurred that the rule change "accommodates the packing of smaller clamshells.
Sun World is "fine with it," he said, and "I don't think it is going to be an issue with customers at all."