The blackberry industry’s attempt to form a research and promotion program has run into the brick wall of politics.
The unlikely collision, however, may not ultimately prevent the industry from forming the grower-funded organization that’s designed to encourage blackberry consumption.
During a Jan. 6 session at the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah, Ga., Ervin Lineberger, owner of Killdeer Farm, Kings Mountain, N.C., led a give-and-take session on the proposed research and promotion organization.
It was the second annual industry hearing on the proposal, to be funded by growers through a penny-a-pound assessment paid by first handlers of all U.S. and imported blackberries. The money could raise $1.25 million to $1.5 million a year.
Things proceeded as normal with Lineberger, past president of the Pittsboro, N.C.-based North American Raspberry & Blackberry Association, presenting the benefits of forming such a group.
Then the issue of the Christmas tree tax surfaced.
Lineberger said misinformation from the Heritage Foundation, repeated by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh as well as on other media outlets, in early December portrayed the Obama administration as supporting a 15-cents-per-tree tax on Christmas trees.
Members of the National Christmas Tree Association supported a proposal to form the Christmas Tree Promotion, Research and Information Order through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Lineberger said the blackberry industry’s efforts matched the Christmas tree group’s plans.
“The Obama administration stopped everything,” Lineberger said.
“They put the word out that there would be no more research and development programs developed at this time, so everything is on hold (with the blackberry proposal).
“I have talked with people at the USDA,” he said.
“They advised us to keep working on our proposal. At the time when they feel they can proceed with it, they will go with it.”
Lineberger said the raspberry industry faces a similar roadblock. That group was within three to four days of submitting its paperwork to form a processed raspberries marketing order.
Meanwhile, the blackberry group remains active and is fine-tuning its proposal, Lineberger said.
During the Savannah discussions, marketers contrasted fresh blackberry sales to fresh blueberry sales.
Speakers discussed the effectiveness of the blueberry industry’s promotion and research programs and said the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service requires independent evaluation of such programs.
According to a blackberry industry survey, 90% of respondents said funding marketing and promotions should be the proposed group’s highest priority.
Those promotions could involve market research. Blackberries are low on the list of top-selling fruits in grocery stores, Lineberger said.
Growers in the audience expressed support and no one verbally objected to the industry moving forward with its plans.
“Thank you all of you for doing this,” said grower Anne Geyer, project leader of AgriBerry, Studley, Va.
“We are a fledgling industry. If this comes about, it could really jumpstart our industry and all of our efforts.”
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