The future of the Reedley-based California Tree Fruit Agreement, a fixture in the state since 1933, is uncertain after the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered the termination of federal nectarine and peach marketing orders for California.
Recently released results of two referenda conducted in January and February indicate 63% of nectarine growers and 62% of peach growers voted to continue the marketing orders. While both vote totals were shy of the needed two-thirds majority, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack could have directed the orders to continue.
“It (the total) was within what the secretary had latitude to pass,” said Gary Van Sickle, CTFA president. “In fact, the totals were higher than the last referenda.”
A factor that may have weighed on the USDA’s decision is that the voting growers this year represented just 36% of the annual volume of both commodities. Growers who voted in the last referenda in 2003 produced 60.6% of the nectarine volume and 60.7% of the peach volume, according to USDA records.
Whether the doors to CTFA remain open long term depends on whether the USDA permits the California Plum Marketing Board, which is eligible to continue for another three years, to remain in place.
“If we keep going, it’ll probably be a staff of one or two people,” Van Sickle said.
A meeting of the Plum Marketing Board is scheduled for April 8 at which time growers will decide if any of the board’s programs should continue this year.
“I believe it (CTFA) served the industry well, because it was always responsible to the industry,” said Dave Parker, director of marketing for Scattaglia Growers & Shippers LLC, Traver.
The termination of the orders means CTFA will no longer fund research nor provide category analysis.
“I think those two things will be sorely missed,” Parker said.
Van Sickle became president of CTFA last year, the third person to hold the title since 2006. The turnover was troubling to some grower-shippers, said Harold McClarty, president of HMC Group Marketing Inc., Kingsburg.
“The organization needs stability,” he said. “It’s one of those situations where you hate to see it go, but I guess it’s part of the changing that we’re going to see in our industry.”
Those changes include “a tremendous shrinking of growers, shippers and marketing companies,” McClarty said.
CTFA grower members voted to abandon domestic marketing efforts three years ago. The USDA decision to terminate the nectarine and peach orders also will halt international marketing programs.
“We’re walking away from $2.5 million in market access program funds,” Van Sickle said.
The loss of support in international markets could pose problems for some grower-shippers, Parker said.
“That’s going to be huge,” he said. “For those who are strong in export, that’s going to be a big factor.”
The end of the orders will also halt annual volume estimates and packout tracking, Van Sickle said.
The CTFA staff has begun the winding down processes for the nectarine and peach order provisions. The phase down could take as long as six months as a mandatory audit is conducted and assessments are returned to grower-shippers, Van Sickle said.