(Dec. 20) SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ralph Watts, who helped launch the Buy California campaign to urge consumers to shop for agricultural products produced in their state, has stepped back from his role as chief executive officer.

Watts will still act in a consulting role for the remainder of his contract, said Scott Horsfall, chief operating officer of Buy California. Horsfall assumed Watts’ administrative duties in mid-November.

“Ralph came out of retirement to start Buy California,” Horsfall said. “Now that we’re up and running, he’s going to slide back into retirement.”

Horsfall said consumer and retail response to the Buy California program is encouraging and that it has been building since the first Buy California ads appeared last summer.

Horsfall said he wasn’t sure when or if a successor to Watts would be named.

California is in a budget crisis, with Gov. Gray Davis seeking to cut programs and raise taxes to make up a $30 billion deficit.

Buy California is operating on funds it received from the specialty crop block grant this year. Originally, the state was supposed to contribute $5 million a year to Buy California, but it fell short by $3.5 million this year.

“I’d be surprised if we got more than $1.5 million next year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t get that,” Horsfall said.

But lack of state funding hasn’t prevented successes. Horsfall said most retailers now feature the Buy California logo in ads.

“The next step will be to get more point-of-purchase materials out there and then to conduct in-store promotional efforts that will be very visible,” Horsfall said.