An increased handler assessment rate on grapes from southeastern California was enacted in April to meet an increased administrative committee budget in a year when production is expected to be less.

On April 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the rule increasing the assessment rate on grapes grown in southeastern California from 1 cent to 1¼ cents per 18-pound lug. Assessment fees fund the California Desert Grape Administrative Committee, which oversees the marketing order and regulates grape-handling in the region.

The increase was recommended in October by the committee, which consists of grape producers and handlers from the area. The committee recommended the higher rate in response to expectations for a need to fund a larger committee budget with a predicted smaller crop volume.

The committee estimated the 2011 crop to be about 6 million 18-pound lugs. During the 2010 fiscal year, about 6.6 million 18-pound lugs were handled from the region, with a crop value of about $38.2 million.

The report said historical crop and price data predicted an average producer price in 2011 of about $5.77 per 18-pound lug.

The committee’s recommended budget for 2011 includes $10,000 for a new research project. Last year’s budget did not include research funding, according to the rule report.

The order applies to an area covering Imperial County, and the parts of San Diego and Riverside counties that are east of White Water, Calif., said Kurt Kimmel, regional manager for the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. The published regulatory analysis of the rule said there are 14 handlers and 50 producers who are subject to the order.