(Jan. 15, 11:55 a.m.) SAVANNAH, Ga. — Growers and shippers of Georgia blueberries are working to form a marketing order to promote the state’s growing berry production.

At a Jan. 9 public hearing during the 2009 Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference, growers testified in favor of forming a Georgia blueberry marketing order.

Receiving support, the Georgia Department of Agriculture issued ballots to the state’s nearly 200 growers.

The measure requires 66% approval from at least 25% of the state’s growers, said Steve Mullis, president of the Alma-based Georgia Blueberry Growers Association and co-owner and vice president of Alma Pak Inc.

The proposed marketing order would be funded by a $5-a-ton assessment on those who grow more than 2,000 pounds of berries. The mail-in ballots are due to the department by Feb. 9.

Mullis, who also serves as vice chairman of the state’s blueberry commission formed to explore creating a marketing order, said the order has strong grower support.

“With all the budget cuts and everything going on in the university systems, we are going to have to help ourselves with seed money to get research going,” he said.

“Our industry is growing. We don’t have much choice. When all the funding is being cut everywhere, we decided as a group that if we’re going to do anything, we will have to help ourselves.”

Mullis, whose packinghouse represents 72 growers selling fresh production to SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla., said the state’s blueberry production has increased by up to 3,000 acres a year.

The LaGrange-based Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association last spring went on record in support of the order, said Charles Hall, executive director, who testified in favor of the plan.

“In our opinion, it is a good way for growers to help themselves,” Hall said. “It provides growers the opportunity to collect funds to use in research and for education and promotion programs to encourage consumers to purchase more blueberries.”

No one expressed opposition, Hall and Mullis said.