(Oct. 4) REEDLEY, Calif. — The debate over precious pennies — that add up to millions — in mandatory assessments returned to the spotlight when the California Department of Food and Agriculture decided that the removal of spending caps requires plum growers’ approval.

This decision comes nearly six months after the California Plum Marketing Board approved changes to spending caps on three activities — promotion and marketing; research; and quality and inspection.

The caps were removed based on the recommendation of the plum board. The overall 20-cent cap per 28-pound carton of plums was kept the same, said Blair Richardson, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement, which administers the plum marketing order.

The following assessment limits are the items that were removed:

  • 11 cents per box for sales promotion and market development.

  • 2 cents per carton for research and survey activities.

  • 7 cents for quality standards and inspection activities.

Removing the assessment components allows the board to allot funding based on the industry’s needs instead of a set formula.

“The change was made so the plum marketing order would be more similar to the peach and nectarine (programs),” Richardson said. “This makes it similar and allows flexibility.”

Richardson said the move was to allow the industry to adapt to changing needs. For example, he said, if an opportunity to research how nutrients in plums fight prostate cancer came before the board it would make it difficult to channel funds under a 2 cent cap.

The ag department’s decision will move the issue back to the public hearing level. The item will go through a public notification process, and then plum growers will vote, Richardson said.

A vote is required because the change is now considered a major amendment. The plum board had classified it as a minor amendment that allows changes to be made at the board level.