Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Walnut referendum to move forward

California walnut growers' vote on whether to raise their potential assessment, which I advanced last month, is moving forward. From the commission:
A referendum of the California Walnut Commission will be held during the month of March. Growers in the state will have the opportunity to vote on raising the assessment cap, not the assessment, from $0.01 per inshell pound to $0.0175 cents per inshell pound. The assessment cap can only be changed by a vote of the growers, and each year the assessment itself is decided by Commission Board members. The California Department of Food and Agriculture will mail the ballots on March 2 and growers will have thirty days send in their vote.

When the Commission was established in 1987, the assessment cap was set at $0.01 per inshell pound. In the 25 years of existence, the CWC has been below the cap in 12 of those years, including the current year.

The industry faces some serious challenges to Commission programs. Marketing costs are on the rise in key markets around the world. Exchange rate fluctuations can significantly hinder the ability to implement market development programs. Also on the rise, is the cost of conducting health research. Health research has proved to be a valuable program for the industry. Over the past 20 years the CWC has established a health research program that has generated 75 published papers in leading peer reviewed journals. Research has focused on key public health issues including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and cognitive function, among others. This strong database of health research led to walnuts achieving a qualified health claim from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)[1]. Publishing papers has become very competitive and gold standard research (needed for the USDA Dietary Guidelines) comes at a higher price. Lastly, the Commission is continually working to reduce trade barriers in export markets, which now account for over 60% of the industry’s shipments, thereby increasing the scope and importance of trade relations.

Budget discussions in Washington DC raise fears about reductions or elimination of federal funding that contributes significantly to export market development. The Commission currently receives $4.5 million from the Market Access Program (MAP) and coupled with other programs, a total of approximately $5 million annually could be at risk.

In February 2011, the Commission Board voted unanimously to hold a grower referendum to increase the assessment cap from the current $0.01 to $0.0175 per inshell pound. The decision is up to the growers. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) will conduct the referendum and mail the ballots March 2, 2012. Growers will have thirty days to return their ballot and should contact Kathy Diaz of CDFA at (916) 900-5018 with questions about the referendum. For questions regarding the California Walnut Commission and its activities, please contact the CWC offices at (916) 932-7070.

[1] Supportive but not conclusive research shows that eating 1.5 ounces per day of walnuts, as part of a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet and not resulting in increased choleric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

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