California kiwifruit grower-shippers might vote in 2010 on a handful of proposed amendments to rules governing the federal Kiwifruit Administrative Committee.

The amendments, printed in the Federal Register Nov. 12, are aimed at streamlining the industry and giving the committee an expanded role.

“The changes address the reality that the industry has changed since the first marketing order was put in place,” said Nick Matteis, assistant manager of the committee and the California Kiwifruit Commission, Sacramento.

The proposed changes, which have the support of the state commission, would realign grower districts and committee membership, revise the committee’s nomination and selection processes, authorize the committee to conduct production, post-harvest and marketing research and promotional programs and revise meeting and voting procedures.

“The growers may decide in the future to go with just one group and want to preemptively equip the administrative committee with the same capabilities as the commission,” Matteis said.

While there are areas where responsibilities overlap, the state commission focuses on public relations, advertising and promotion while the committee mostly deals with grade standards, said grower-shipper Doug Phillips, owner of Phillips Farms Marketing, Visalia, Calif.

“It might be a good move to eliminate some of the redundancy,” he said. “The industry probably needs just one body.”

When the kiwifruit marketing order went into effect, the state’s then embryonic kiwifruit industry was spread across California. As a result, representatives are elected to the committee from eight districts, Matteis said.

Since the mid-1990s, two regions have become dominant, he said. One is the Kings-Tulare counties area; the other is north of Sacramento. A proposed amendment would reduce the districts to three, one for each of the major growing regions and one for the rest of the state.

“Participation was becoming a problem,” Phillips said. “We were having trouble getting a quorum at meetings.”

Comments on the proposed changes will be accepted until Dec. 14. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will evaluate the comments before deciding on a grower referendum for the proposed amendments, said a spokeswoman for the department’s Marketing Order Administration Branch. That decision is not expected to be reached before May or June, she said.

If the referendum is in 2010, each amendment must receive support from two-thirds of the votes of growers casting ballots — or from growers representing two-thirds of the kiwifruit grown — to go into effect.

The changes were the subject of several public meetings in the past year.

“I’m not aware of any widespread discontent about the proposed rules,” Phillips said. “They’ve been talked about for a long time.”

Some changes in place

Madera-based Western Fresh Marketing Services Inc. is among the state’s largest marketers of kiwifruit. The proposed amendments “really won’t have a direct impact on us,” said George Kragie, Western Fresh president.

Kragie is not pleased, however, with another administrative committee rule that went into effect Nov. 17.

The rule requires handlers who ship 100,000 or more trays per season to file with the committee weekly shipment and price information. Western Fresh will market this year about 2.4 million tray-equivalents, Kragie said.

“It appears the committee is using a backdoor to get individual information from shippers,” he said. “That’s proprietary information that could give our kiwi brethren across the water an opportunity to ship when they see U.S. prices are up.”

Smaller grower-shippers also could benefit from the information, Kragie said.

His view is not shared by all grower-shippers. The weekly reports from individual growers and handlers will be kept confidential, Phillips said, but will provide pricing information not previously available.

“We’ll get more than standard inventory and shipment data,” he said. “Our marketing people will get a little better look at prices.”

Industry considers California kiwifruit order changes