California cherry growers establish research board

04/13/2012 11:04:00 AM
Mike Sherry

Cherry growers and shippers in California have authorized a new organization to represent the industry.

In mail-in election results certified March 27, the growers and shippers approved a new marketing order to establish the California Cherry Marketing and Research Program. It replaces the California Cherry Advisory Board, which had been in place since 1993.

The evolution of the industry forced the change, said Jeff Colombini, who was chairman of the former advisory board and is a grower representative on the new, 12-person board. Colombini is president of Lodi Farming, Stockton, Calif.

When the industry created the advisory board to promote cherries in Japan, Colombini said, bings comprised about 95% of the state’s crop. Now, with all the new varieties, he said bings make up less than half of the total crop.

Meanwhile, the amount of orchard space has soared from roughly 18,000 acres two decades ago to about 42,000 acres today, he said.

The new board will encompass more than the four varieties covered by the old marketing order, Colombini said. That will allow the new board to conduct research on varieties such as tulares, brooks and corals.

He said research will be the new board’s primary mission, though it will run generic, industrywide marketing overseas. The budget for the new board calls for annual research spending to approximately double to $300,000.

There’s a lot of room for research into making growers more efficient and productive and to produce the best cherry possible with a longer shelf life.

It behooves the industry to satisfy their customers. “If they are happy with the quality,” Colombini said, “they are going to come back and buy some more. It is very basic. It’s not rocket science.”

Here’s how the vote totals broke down, according to Colombini:

  • Growers voted 355-67 in favor of the proposal. The total number of growers voting represented 57% of all growers and those that favored the proposal handle 85% of the volume among the voters.
  •  Packers voted 14-1 in favor of the proposal. The total number of packers voting represented 83% of all packers and those that favored the proposal handle about 95% of the volume among the voters.

At Rivermaid Trading Co. in Lodi, Calif., sales manager Larelle Miller was sorry to lose the collective marketing clout of a unified organization.

But, she added, “I also believe research is becoming more important for California cherry growers than any marketing effort. If California can do the research to grow a better piece of fruit and be competitive … when it is our season, it benefits the industry as a whole.”

Rich Sambado, sales manager at Primavera Marketing Inc., Stockton, Calif., said it was nice to retain an organization that speaks for growers and shippers on items like trade issues.

But, he said, “It seems like generic promotion, maybe we have kind of outgrown that as an industry. We felt like it’s more effective for a shipper to be promoting from within.”

The Washington apple industry provides a cautionary tale, said Joan Tabak, sales manager with Roland Marketing, Fridley, Minn. She said Washington apple growers now pay more per box to market their own crop than they paid in their assessment to the former apple commission.

In dismantling the commission, Tabak said of the growers, “I don’t think they understood the full ramifications of what would transpire.”



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