(Dec. 14) PASCO, Wash. — Discontent among Washington asparagus growers, some who feel they were denied a chance to vote on the future of the Washington Asparagus Commission two years ago, could lead to a referendum.

Growers met in Yakima and Pasco Dec. 12-13 to testify in front of Washington State Department of Agriculture officials concerning the commission.

The department will consider both oral and written testimony concerning the 10-year-old commission’s effectiveness in promoting asparagus and providing nutrition research to consumers.

Margaret Webring, the commission’s administrator, was unavailable for comment Dec. 13.

OLD ISSUES

In February 2000, a similar process ended when the former department director, Jim Jesernig, decided the grower testimony didn’t compel him to set a vote on the matter. Growers in favor of the vote were further upset because a state official had erroneously promised they could vote on the matter.

David and Ami MacHugh, whose grower petition led to the original hearings, sued the state agency in the commission after Jesernig’s denial. A judge later ruled the hearing process should start over.

Pat McDonald, president of Pacific Marketing International Inc., Yakima, said she believes the growers will have a chance to vote this time.

FRESH VS. CANNED

The main reason, she said, is that promotions are geared toward fresh-market asparagus, even though 70% of the state’s crop goes to canneries.

In 2000, assessments raised from the processing segment were $272,100, while the fresh side forwarded $126,150 to the commission.

Earlier this year, the commission discontinued its Fast Grass retail promotion, which used the assessment to reward buyers who purchased at least 16,000 pounds of Washington asparagus during peak periods.

McDonald said that money went to people who changed the time of year they bought the asparagus but didn’t increase their overall purchases.