(March 28) NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The California Grape & Tree Fruit League remains optimistic and in good financial order following a tough 2001 season of low volume and lackluster prices.

The league, gathered for its annual meeting March 24-26, learned that despite a deficit of about $116,000 in its 2001-02 budget, it will be able to maintain its annual budget of about $923,000.

That is because the league maintains a large reserve fund.

“We have $497,000 in the reserve fund,” Louis Pandol, secretary-treasurer of the league, told a turnout of 225 members at the annual membership meeting March 25.

Jon Zaninovich, vice president of Jasmine Vineyards Inc., Delano, Calif., took the gavel from Jim Simonian, co-owner of Simonian Fruit Co., Fowler, Calif., as chairman of the league board. The board named David Elliot III, operations manager for David J. Elliot & Sons, Courtland, Calif., as vice chairman and Tony Fazio, president of Tri-Boro Fruit Co. Inc., Fresno, Calif., as second vice chairman.

Zaninovich said that since the early 1990s, the California Grape & Tree Fruit League has kept about $500,000 in reserves.

The reserve fund can prove very valuable in problem years, he said.

Barring severe weather problems in the spring, grape and tree fruit shippers expect a much better production season this year. Trees have formed blossoms evenly and beekeepers report good pollination so far for the upcoming fruit season.

Shippers hope that with good quality fruit and promotable supplies forecast for this year, demand will improve. Increased competition and higher production costs complicated matters in 2001.

“This time may seem bleak in the produce industry, but if we stand together we will see better days ahead,” said Richard Matoian, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Fresno, adding that 225 — about half the league’s membership — attended.

Following the meeting, Matoian reported that the league has obtained federal approval for use of a 16-inch by 24-inch fruit carton for use in California. Previously, shippers had to get an experimental permit to use the larger box for shipping peaches, plums, nectarines and table grapes, he said.

The box, which has been requested by retailers, can be used this season, Matoian said.