(Aug. 1) Citing the need for foreign fruit to pay its fair share for market development, U.S. avocado shippers applauded the approval of a national hass avocado promotion program.

The referendum proposal passed by a landslide, with 820 in favor and 127 against, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The vote, announced July 29, was conducted from June 24 through July 12 by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

“This is a tremendous milestone in the development of the domestic market for hass avocados,” said Avi Crane, vice president of Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Ana, Calif. “This event is equal in importance to the formation of the California Avocado Commission in 1977.”

The program calls for initial assessments of 2.5 cents per pound on domestically produced and imported hass avocados. The money will fuel programs to develop, maintain and expand markets for hass avocados in the U.S.

Had the national program already been in place for the current crop year — beginning Nov. 1 and extending to Oct. 31 — it could have generated about $13.5 million, said Tom Bellamore, senior vice president of the Santa Ana-based California Avocado Commission.

By comparison, the CAC expects to spend about $9.8 million on marketing for this crop year, Bellamore said. Total assessments for the commission should reach $12.9 million, and the total budget, including reserves, is $14.7 million.

But Bellmaore noted that the association’s assessments also come from such varieties as fuertes, bacons and reeds. Plus, the commission has a different basis for its assessments, namely 4.25% of avocados’ farm gate value.

The potential of the national promotion program to increase U.S. consumption in the next five to 10 years is “phenomenal,” said Jim Donovan, vice president of international operations for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

Bob Lucy, president of Del Rey Avocado Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., cited tremendous potential in the Midwest and Northeast. Shippers say ripe fruit programs also will fuel demand.

Still, much work lies ahead. A 12-member board overseeing the promotion program has to be nominated by the industry and appointed by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

The board — which will be made up of seven producers, two importers and three swing positions —will meet in early spring, USDA spokesman Georgia Chartier said.

In the coming weeks, the USDA will consult with the commission, importers and the U.S. Customs Service to determine a feasible date for assessments to begin.

“Soon after the new board is constituted, the promotion efforts can be expected to begin,” Chartier said.