(Oct. 6) The California Kiwifruit Commission’s board of directors voted Sept. 29 to join forces with the California Apple Commission, said board chairman Gary Suthers, owner of GLS Farms, McFarland, Calif.

“I view the move as a very positive alliance,” Suthers said.

He said California Apple Commission president Alex Ott will oversee both commissions, which will be headquartered in the apple commission’s Fresno offices.

Ott said he believes the partnership is a nice fit. He said the two commodities share many marketing similarities.

“We’re in a position to present the California kiwifruit product to potential buyers,” Ott said. “That’s a task that would be difficult for individual growers.”

NOT COMPETING

A key advantage, Suthers said, is that the kiwifruit harvest follows the apple harvest, which means the two California commodities do not compete against each other on market shelves.

Doug Phillips, president of Phillips Farms Marketing, Visalia, Calif., and vice chairman of the kiwifruit commission board, said each commission will continue to be governed by its own board of directors.

Suthers said jointly operating the two commissions will save kiwifruit growers about $40,000 in administrative costs in the coming fiscal year.

The kiwifruit commission board approved a 2006-07 budget of $367,730 on Oct. 3. That’s nearly $20,000 smaller than the commission’s 2005-06 budget as reported by the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Suthers said the budget allows for some one-time contingencies such as settlement and attorney’s fees arising out of the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s seizing of the kiwifruit commission’s records Aug. 17. That action followed an AMS audit that revealed state and federal funds had been commingled.

Lindy LaFrancis resigned as commission president Sept. 7 after the AMS removed her as manager of the federal Kiwifruit Administrative Committee.

Phillips said the president of the kiwifruit commission normally manages the administrative committee and had for at least 25 years placed the federal and state assessments in one account. He said the AMS acted when the commission’s staff apparently failed to separate the funds as quickly as the agency had ordered.

Ott said LaFrancis will continue to work with the commission through Oct. 15, the final day of her consulting contract.

RESHAPING THE COMMISSION

Suthers said the kiwifruit commission board wanted to concentrate the body’s efforts on market access and research and that it wanted to limit marketing costs. That posture, he said, mirrors the goals approved by the apple commission board in 2005.

“What we’re doing is reshaping the commission to make it more efficient for the growers,” Suthers said.

Not all kiwifruit growers are pleased with the new budget. John Fagundes, owner of Fagundes Agribusiness and Cal Harvest Marketing Inc., Hanford, Calif., and a former chairman of the board, said he believes the administrative costs are too high. He said he was unhappy the budget lacked promotional dollars.

Atomic Torosian, managing partner in Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno, said he viewed the merger as a positive. He said Crown Jewels had been talking with growers and hoped to begin marketing kiwifruit in fall 2007.

Suthers said the board plans to consider action on a number of issues in the near future. Among them is the possible lowering of assessments, revising standards and approving research on infrared nondestructive internal quality detection equipment.