New CCM chairman stresses unity in addressing industry issues
November 16, 2005
by Rand Green
"Never in the history of the [California citrus] industry have we been so united," said Philip LoBue, president of LoBue Bros. Inc., a citrus packinghouse in Lindsay, CA, who was elected chairman of the board of directors of California Citrus Mutual at the organization's recent annual meeting.
Speaking at the CCM annual meeting Thursday, Nov. 3, Mr. LoBue emphasized that "the industries we face require that we continue" to be united as an industry. He also stressed the need for the California citrus industry to work together with other commodity organizations because "most of the issues we face" are also issues of concern to fruit and vegetable producers in the country.
Farmers face a "hostile" attitude from legislators who single out "agriculture as the bad guys," Mr. LoBue said. Many of the issues relate to environmental policy. Typical of the hostility of legislators toward agriculture is the attitude that "if it rains on your property, you are considered a contributor to water pollution," he said.
The battle between environmentalists and farmers with regard to water use continues. Citrus growers and other farmers in California's San Joaquin Valley are currently engaged in a legal battle to maintain their water rights. "We are working to protect [the water] from those who would squander it," he said.
Another concern is labor shortage, said Mr. LoBue, who emphasized the need for a viable guest worker program. Inequitable trade policies are an ongoing challenge, he added, noting that the California citrus industry faces unfair competition from imports from several citrus- producing countries.
Food safety and food security are important, but sometimes the required protocols can put a burden on farmers without achieving their intended purposes. "Hopefully we can streamline these concepts," he said.
California Citrus Mutual, both as an organization and in concert with other produce industry organizations, is working with legislators and regulators on the state and federal levels, "trying to steer these issues in the right direction," he said.
Proposed table grape marketing order changes unlikely to affect Chilean shipments in 2006
November 15, 2005
by Tad Thompson
On Oct. 31, ASOEX, Asociacion de Exportadores de Chile (also known as the Chilean Exporters Association), asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend the comment period for an effort by the Coachella growers, known as the Desert Grape League, to change the regulatory periods for grapes that they grow and also for table grapes supplied from Chile and Mexico. This is USDA's Marketing Order 925 and Import Regulation 4.
In 1987, the USDA set April 20 as the beginning marketing order date, after which supply is restricted by grading requirements. The Desert Grape League has asked the USDA to move back the date another 20 days, to April 1. According to ASOEX President Ronald Bown, "The effect of the proposed change, if adopted by USDA, would stop shipments of Chilean Thompson grapes as of April 1, break the continuity of the supply and consequently deprive the consumer of a choice to buy Chilean fruit." Mr. Bown noted, however, that "delays in the regulatory process make it unlikely that the proposed changes could be made in time to affect Chilean grape shipments in April 2006."
Tom Tjerandsen, marketing director for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, said, "Under the current circumstances, our marketing plan will support sales of Chilean grapes through April 20 of 2006."
ASOEX asked the Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit & Vegetable Marketing Service, USDA, to extend the comment period for an additional 60 days, to Jan. 30 from Nov. 28. Two prior extensions were granted earlier this year.
In a letter on public file with the Agricultural Marketing Service, ASOEX gave four reasons for extending the comment period.
First, AMS had not released all the information that was cited in the proposed rule to justify the date change. Second, a Freedom of Information Act request was pending seeking release of the withheld information. Third, contrary to federal law, the agency had not cited any data in support of the date change from the season ending in April 2005. Fourth, the U.S. trade representative and its Chilean counterpart, Direcon, are currently reviewing the proposed rule as required by a provision of the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement. "The discussions between the two governments are still ongoing," Mr. Bown said.
ASOEX represents Chilean interests that ship over 90 percent of Chile's exported fresh produce volume. ASOEX also coordinates with approximately 75 companies that supply Chilean fruit to U.S. retailers.
David Holzworth, U.S. general counsel for ASOEX, said, "I don't see the desert league effort as anything but a protectionist measure. [Protectionism] is not a legitimate reason to change the marketing order."
According to Mr. Holzworth, Chile and Coachella do not sell into the U.S. market at the same time, except for a very low volume of sales that do not have a statistically significant adverse effect on Coachella grape prices. "For example," Mr. Holzworth said, "Thompsons are shipped to the U.S. at the end of the Chilean season. Chilean Thompsons have been cleared out of the market every year, for the last five to 10 years, well before any Thompsons were packed from Coachella." Coachella, he said, typically begins to pack small quantities of Thompsons in mid-May.
In an Oct. 27 interview with The Produce News, Mr. Holzworth called the proposed marketing order "complex" and "fact-based."
"In our view, the proceeding will not result in a valid legal final rule if we do not have at least 60 days to analyze the data submitted by the Desert Grape League in support of the proposed date change," he said, adding, "As far as we're concerned the comment deadline can be no earlier than the first or second week of January at this point. And that is assuming that USDA gives the data to us today. There is no indication the data will come flying over the Internet to my computer any time soon."
According to Mr. Holzworth, after AMS receives all the comments, it will take the agency another two to three months to analyze the comments and prepare a make a final ruling. USTR also needs to sign off on any proposed changes. "Given the way the procedure works," he concluded, "there is not enough time to get this done to have any effect on the April 2006 shipments."