At a time when commodity boards and marketing orders seem to be falling by the wayside, Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual is going strong.

Funded by a 3-cent-per-carton assessment, the 34-year-old voluntary growers organization is just as committed to its goals of providing members with education, information and advocacy as ever, said long-time president Joel Nelsen.

“We’re a pretty comprehensive trade association,” Nelsen said.

Growers have come to rely on to represent the industry in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento, the state’s capital, he said.

Besides Nelsen, who is set to begin his 30th year with Citrus Mutual, the organization’s senior management includes Shirley Batchman, director of government affairs, and Bob Blakely, director of industry affairs.

“There’s a lot of credibility in our organization,” Nelsen said.

Citrus Mutual was established by a group of growers who felt they didn’t know enough about what was going on in the marketplace, and who needed an alternate source of information, he said.

“They felt their shippers and marketers were telling them only what they wanted them to hear instead of what they needed to hear.”

At first, the organization focused primarily on putting out a weekly newsletter, Nelsen said.

But then came “a watershed year” for Citrus Mutual in 1990, when a massive freeze hit the state and he took off for Washington, D.C., to work on a disaster relief program and a crop insurance program.

“From there, our activities in both capitals just started to expand,” he said.

Citrus Mutual still disseminates a market memo to the industry and other information to various targeted audiences, but its purpose has “morphed into more of a public advocacy role,” Nelsen said.

The organization has industry representatives in Sacramento and Washington.

Nelsen said some of Citrus Mutual’s finest achievements include:

Working with the lemon industry to stop importation of lemons from a pest- and disease-infested area.

Working in Sacramento with three other citrus organizations to eliminate the sales tax on implements of husbandry.

Putting together in record time a citrus pest and disease management committee that has enabled the industry to organize itself to offset voids created by lack of resources at federal and state levels relative to trapping and disease treatment activities.

Creating a viable set of criteria that has enabled continued trade growth in South Korea.

Tom Wollenman, general manager of LoBue Bros. Inc., Lindsay, Calif., and chairman of Citrus Mutual, thinks the organization will be around for awhile.

“We are probably considered one of the strongest agricultural trade organizations in California,” he said. “We are not afraid to take on all sorts of issues.”

Nelsen said growers appreciate the up to 500% return on their investment.

Unlike commissions and marketing orders, which are voted on every five years, Citrus Mutual is, in effect, subject to a referendum every year, Nelsen said. Members can withdraw at any time.

“Well over 60% of the industry does support us, and we’re proud of that,” he said.