PARLIER, Calif. — The California Tree Fruit Agreement has restructured and mapped plans for an essentials-only approach in the coming year.

California stone fruit group goes bare bones

“We listened to our growers and handlers and took the steps necessary to address their concerns while keeping CTFA viable,” said Gary Van Sickle, president of the Reedley-based organization.

The restructuring, unveiled by Van Sickle at the agreement’s fall meeting Dec. 21, comes in the wake of a referendum that resulted in the pending dissolution of the California Tree Fruit Marketing Board and four consecutive years of low prices that often failed to equal the costs of growing, harvesting and packing. The marketing board is one of four federal and state commodity committees and boards the agreement oversees.

“We have trimmed the staff from 14 to 8,” Van Sickle told growers attending the meeting.

Among the casualties of the restructuring are Dale Janzen, a nearly 25-year staff member who was director of industry relations, and Gordon Smith, director of marketing.

Stone fruit companies shipped 52.1 million cartons of nectarines, peaches and plums this year, up from 46.3 million cartons in 2009 but far below the near-record of 59 million cartons in 2008. The Tree Fruit Agreement is tentatively forecasting 2011 volume of 50 million cartons, due in large part to “lots of trees being pulled,” Van Sickle said.

“The number of growers is decreasing, and the number of handlers is decreasing,” he said. “This year, 71% of the fruit was packed by 14 handlers.”

The number of packinghouses — or handlers — is at 97, down from more than 200 10 years ago, Van Sickle said. The 14 handlers doing the bulk of the packing also are grower-shippers, he said.

California stone fruit group goes bare bones

Don Schrack

Jim Simonian, co-owner of Simonian Fruit Co., Fowler, talks with Rod Milton, owner of Rod Milton Farms, Reedley, about the low per carton assessments approved during the California Tree Fruit Agreement’s fall meeting Dec. 21. “I question whether three cents a carton (for peaches and nectarines) is enough,” he said.

With the Tree Fruit Marketing Board soon to be dissolved, the Tree Fruit Agreement’s staff proposed — and the growers approved — 2011 per-carton assessments of three cents for peaches and nectarines and 4.5 cents for plums. This season, the assessments were 6.6 cents for peaches, 6.8 cents for nectarines and 7.25 cents for plums.

Some growers expressed concern whether the lower assessments would permit the organization to do its job.

“I question whether three cents a carton (for peaches and nectarines) is enough,” said Jim Simonian, co-owner of Simonian Fruit Co., Fowler.

Not all the news at the agreement’s fall meeting was glum.

“Exports this year were up 22%,” Van Sickle said.

In addition, eight retailers were added to the agreement’s category management program, he said.

The two federal programs under the CTFA umbrella will hold referenda early next year. Voting is scheduled to begin Jan. 12 and conclude Feb. 3 for the Peach Commodity Committee and the Nectarine Administrative Committee.