(July 29, 2:20 p.m.) VISALIA, Calif. — A year after the California Pistachio Commission was dissolved, the board of directors of the resurgent Western Pistachio Association, Fresno, has approved a fiscal 2009 budget of $2.2 million, a $625,000 increase over the current budget.

The board meeting followed the association’s first annual pre-harvest luncheon, which attracted an overflow crowd of more than 120 grower-shippers and industry representatives July 23 in Visalia.

The budget increase was due in part to unexpectedly high income from the association’s voluntary assessment program.

“Assessment income for fiscal 2008 approached $2.3 million,” said Michael Woolf, board chairman and owner of Woolf Farming, Huron. “Income from the assessments had been expected to be about $1.6 million,” he said.

The board voted to continue the voluntary assessment rate, 1.75 cents per pound, through fiscal 2009.

The lion’s share of the budget — more than $1 million — is to focus on nutritional research, promotion of the research findings and product development, said Richard Matoian, who took over as the association’s executive director May 1.

“The U.S. pistachio industry is growing substantially,” Matoian said.

The 2008-09 California crop, excluding the state’s largest grower, Paramount Farms Inc., Los Angeles, is forecast to be about 260 million pounds, he said. Paramount Farms is not a member of the association.

Membership in the association has grown to about 70% of the state’s grower-shippers, Woolf said. The members produce about 33% of the state’s pistachio acreage, he said.

In late 2006, grower-shippers voted by a slim margin to dissolve the California Pistachio Commission. At the time, commission president Karen Reinecke said the voting was heavily influenced by an injunction halting the collection of grower assessments for generic advertising. The injunction grew out of a lawsuit filed by Paramount Farms.

The Washington, D.C.-based pistachio association stepped in to fill the leadership gap left by the dissolution of the commission and established temporary offices in Fresno. The board voted July 23 to permanently move the association’s headquarters to Fresno and to close the Washington offices.

In addition to California, the association has grower-shipper members in Arizona and New Mexico.

Pistachio group’s board approves 30% budget hike
Richard Matoian, executive director of the Western Pistachio Association, Fresno, Calif., addresses an overflow crowd of more than 120 grower-shippers and industry representatives at the organization’s pre-harvest luncheon July 23 in Visalia, Calif. “The association will spend more than $1 million during fiscal 2009 on nutritional research, promotion of the research findings and product development,” Matoian says.