(April 15) The date has been set for a vote on the hass avocado promotion order, despite some questions about how trade tensions with Mexico and a farm bill amendment might affect its future.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced April 8 it will conduct a referendum among hass avocado producers and importers from June 24 through July 12. The referendum will poll support among growers and importers for the Hass Avocado Promotion, Research, and Information Order, as published Feb. 19 in the Federal Register. The marketing order is authorized under the Hass Avocado Promotion, Research and Information Act of 2001.

The USDA said approval would be based upon a simple majority of the hass avocado producers and importers voting. While California hass growers may have varied feelings about joining with international competitors, Tom Bellamore, senior vice president of the California Avocado Commission, Santa Ana, said there are reasons to pool promotion efforts.

IMPORTERS’ FAIR SHARE

Making sure importers pay their fair share of market development is appealing to California growers. And investing more money in hass promotion will help demand increase along with rising supply, he said.

California growers have opposed increased access of Mexican avocados to the U.S. market, and he said the question of how Mexican and Californian interests could work together is a valid one.

However, Bellamore said, some of the disagreements on phytosanitary issues between the U.S. and Mexico could be sorted out by next year, when the board is expected to be formed.

One marketer of both domestic and imported avocados said prospects for the order’s passage still look strong.

“Everyone is getting behind the fact that promotion is good; there appears to be a lot of momentum right now,” said Jim Donovan, vice president of international operations for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

Generic promotion is widely embraced, but he said there are differences of opinion on the specifics of how the new body should be run.

Chile has been very vocal about making sure the balance of power on the new board is fair, Donovan noted. Mexico also wants to expand its influence in the U.S.; shipments of Mexican avocados to the U.S. in the 2001-02 season reached about 2.1 million 25-pound cartons, up from just fewer than 1 million cartons in 2000-01, he said.

Despite coming through a season with bigger volumes and steady prices, Donovan said, Mexican growers are always going to ask for more until they have access to all 50 states.

INITIAL ASSESSMENT

Under the proposed order, growers and importers would pay an initial assessment of 2.5 cents per pound of fresh domestic and imported hass avocados to the hass avocado board.

The board would consist of 12 members, including seven domestic hass avocado producers and two importers. Three additional members would be either importers or domestic producers, depending on the average volume of domestic production and imports in the U.S. over the previous three years, the agency said.

Under the proposed order, the assessments due on imported hass avocados shall be paid when they are released from customs.

On the farm bill front, an amendment to repeal the Hass Avocado Promotion, Research and Information Act was floated and later withdrawn in February, but another amendment seeking changes was approved and attached to the Senate’s version of the farm bill.

When the amendment passed Feb. 12, Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said the legislation tried to bring equity to Mexican producers of avocados by collecting the assessment on imported avocados in the same way as on domestically grown avocados. Instead of making the fee due immediately when the fruit crosses into the U.S., the amendment states that the assessment from imported fruit will be paid “not less than 30 days after the avocado clears customs.”

In addition, the Senate amendment states that the USDA has the discretion to revisit the issue of seat allocation on the board after five years

USDA officials declined to comment on whether another referendum would be required if the amendment makes it into the final bill.