(Feb. 12) PARLIER, Calif. — A rift that surfaced suddenly at the fall meeting of the California Tree Fruit Agreement, Reedley, and threatened to divide the 1,100 peach, plum and nectarine grower-packer members has healed quickly and smoothly.

At issue was a motion to reduce from 14.5 cents to 9.5 cents the assessment growers pay per carton of packed fruit — a move that some grower-shippers said would have dire consequences for the Tree Fruit Agreement, the marketing, advertising and research arm of the California peach, plum and nectarine industry.

“All of our plans are stronger and better than what we had proposed in November,” said Sheri Mierau, president of the organization.

Calmer heads apparently prevailed in private discussions and committee meetings in the weeks following the fall meeting.

The relative calm of the post-harvest season permitted the staff to re-visit and fine tune its 2008 marketing and promotional strategies, Mierau said.

Adding to the tranquility, she said, was the discovery of a $900,000 surplus from the previous fiscal year. The funds were the result of unreported cartons, she said.

The move to reduce the assessment was in the wake of a near bumper crop of more than 50 million cartons of stone fruit.

Despite what grower-shippers said was very high quality and excellent taste, prices remained soft throughout the 2007 season.

Some grower-shippers talked openly of pulling their stone fruit orchards and replacing them with other commodities.

Meeting at the University of California’s Kearney Research Station in Parlier Feb. 6, the Tree Fruit Agreement’s four key committees — one each for peaches, plums, nectarines and tree fruit quality — voted unanimously to approve a 13.5 cent per carton assessment.

The operating budget for the coming fiscal year will be about $9 million, Mierau said, which is nearly the same as the 2007 budget. It leaves in tact all of the Tree Fruit Agreement’s critical marketing elements for working with retailers to promote the fruit, she said.

The marketing efforts will focus strongly on the health and nutrition benefits of stone fruit, Mierau said. Research has found that peaches, plums and nectarines offer equal to or superior health and nutrition benefits when compared with other major commodities, she said.