(June 24) In what is the government’s measure of commodity association staff work and international trade performance, millions of dollars in federal funds to promote fresh produce were announced in mid-June.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman on June 17 announced funding for the Market Access Program at $125 million for fiscal 2004, an increase of 14% from $110 million in initial allocations in fiscal 2003. The government’s fiscal year began in October and ends Sept. 30.

The funding allocations were especially kind to a handful of commodity associations, while other groups received stable funding and some declined slightly.

Overall, 71 organizations received funding, up from 65 groups last year.

When considering early allocations for fiscal 2004 and supplemental funding for fiscal year 2003, Frank Tarrant, chief of the horticultural division of the Foreign Agricultural Service, said the overall funding of horticultural organizations was similar to last year’s. Tarrant said the USDA allocated $15 million to MAP applicants last October.

The 2002 farm bill prescribed increases during the next few years that will allow MAP allocations to reach $200 million annually by fiscal 2006.

Not all groups receiving MAP funds feature fruits and vegetables.

For example, sheep, soybeans, seafood, peanuts, paper products, distilled spirits, hops, ginseng, sunflower and wine were among the nonproduce trade associations receiving money.

However, at least 30 groups receiving MAP funds do have ties to the fruit, vegetable or nut sectors. Those groups (see chart, Page A2) netted $42.3 million in fiscal 2004 MAP funding, or 13% more than last year. Those groups accounted for 34% of total MAP funding for 2004, the same share as in 2003.

GETTING MORE

Industry-connected groups with 2004 funding increases exceeding 20% were the California Agricultural Export Council (64%), the California Tree Fruit Agreement (37%), the Organic Trade Association (242%), Pear Bureau Northwest/California Pear Advisory Board (21%) and the Washington Apple Commission (41%).
The California Agricultural Export Council represents a variety of commodity associations, including Irvine-based Western Growers and groups representing dates, apricots, pomegranates, potatoes, pears and figs. The council promotes individual California commodities and the image of the state around the world.

“We’re fostering a more aggressive relationship with Western Growers,” Tarrant said, noting the group is expanding efforts to promote vegetables in international markets.

Among the winners in this year’s MAP allocations, the Washington Apple Commission received $2.56 million, up 41% from last year’s initial allocation.

The commission’s very existence, and hence its capability to execute export promotions, had been in question last year, when the group’s funding was cut by 22%.

Dave Carlson, the commission’s manager, said last year’s dip in export funding was understandable.

“FAS was hesitant to commit a lot of money to an organization that might not have been in existence,” he said.

Owing to a court-appointed agreement in the wake of lawsuit challenging generic promotions on First Amendment grounds, Carlson noted that no grower funds can be used for domestic or export promotion.

However, he said MAP funding allows Washington to operate promotional programs in 20 countries, with six dedicated contractors and six part-time merchandising staff.

MORE APPLES, MORE PROMOTION

Carlson said the larger Washington crop in 2004 — variously estimated at 90 million to 100 million cartons —will require more export promotion.

Crop shipments from 2003 are not yet finished but are likely to reach about 77 million cartons, he said.

U.S. apple exports in 2003 totaled $347 million, down from $360 million in 2002 and $392 million in 2001.

The California Tree Fruit Agreement netted funding of $1.57 million, up 37% from last year.

New markets helped offset a volume decline of 18% in Taiwan, where consumer demand was hurt by the SARS virus.

Miller said MAP funds help the CTFA provide promotions and technical support for importers, particuarly important for new markets.

“We need these funds. Hopefully the MAP funds are secure for the next few years,” he said.

In the June 17 annoucement, the USDA said it also allocated funds to Foreign Market Development program and the Quality Samples Program.

The $45 million Foreign Market Development program is largely devoted to benefit grain and livestock exports while the $1.8 million Quality Sample Program helps a variety of organizations pay for sampling costs in new markets.

The 30-year old Market Access Program uses funds from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. to promote U.S. agricultural exports in more than 100 countries, the agency said.