National Editor Tom Karst I’m not keeping score, but there are growers commenting in both directions on the issue of an increase in the assessment for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, with some producers trying to make the case and others trying to break it. Comments are due by July 19.
The comment from Paul Zelenka is perhaps the most methodical that I saw in its support of the assessment increase, which will raise the rate from 0.6 cents per pound to 0.9 cents per pound, or from $12 to $18 per ton. The grower said he supports the increase “in order to generate additional funding to aggressively promote our blueberries and to take advantage of the growing scientific knowledge of the healthfulness of our product."
He rattles off several reasons that an increase makes sense:
• The current assessment rate has stood since 2000;
• Highbush blueberry acreage has growing from 71,025 acres in 2005 to 123,635 acres in 2012 – an increase of 74% in seven years;
• 2012 production of highbush blueberries was 589 million pounds, up 93% from 2005’s output of 305 million pounds;
• North American highbush production could reach 735 million pounds by 2015;
• Current per capita consumption of 36 ounces per person needs to be raised to 50 ounces per person by 2015 to keep pace with supply, an increase of 38%;
• Funding will allow continued research to health benefits, a big driver of purchases
Blueberry growers, of all fruit and veggie, producers, seemed blessed by booming demand and strong returns. Yet that doesn't constrain the criticism of the rate increase from some quarters.
Farmers are currently assessed at both the state and federal levels on blueberries. An increased fee will place further burden on an already struggling market. There is currently a surplus of frozen blueberries left in storage, and prices will most likely be down this year for blueberry growers. Therefore, I am against the hike in the assessment fee at this time.
Another gets even more worked up, irritated by the expense of the board's meetings:
I think it is nothing short of outrageous that the USHBC wants to increase their theft of my fruit harvest by 50%. Have you viewed their yearly travel itinerary? They hold quarterly conventions in posh locations like Bar Harbor Maine, Miami Beach, Florida, Las Vegas, Nevada, and San Francisco, California every two or three months. This behavior is hedonistic and I say heck no!!
One grower seemed to make peace with the idea, considering the sobering predictions of rising blueberry production. The growers pens:
I believe that the proposed assessment increase is justified as there is great need to continue to promote blueberries and to research the possible health benefits of increased consumption. The monies assessed in the past have been used wisely and with diligence, being mindful of the work required to earn every dollar the grower gets from producing a food safe fruit. Furthermore, the education aspect of encouraging good agricultural practices helps protect the public, the produce and the environment.
It should be noted that this assessment is not an undue burden on domestic producers as it is not only collected on domestic blueberries but also on all imported blueberries. As we struggle with a fragile economy and an era of uncertainty, I feel that it is more important than ever that the balance between the blueberry supply (current and future) and demand be maintained by increasing the awareness and desire for blueberries.
This comment is in support of increasing the assessment from the current $12 per ton to $18 per ton.
TK: In my view, growers who support the increase in the assessment will find allies in the trade. The more "buzz about berries" the easier it will be for retailers to move ever-larger crops.