(Dec. 8) VISALIA, Calif. — Now that obesity and nutrition are key issues with lawmakers, California’s stone fruit industry has adopted a 10-year strategic plan to make the most of it.

“There are huge opportunities in the produce industry in the next five to 10 years,” said Blair Richardson, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement. “Now is the time when we need to be working with politicians.”

More than 400 stone fruit growers attended the Dec. 6 annual meeting of the Reedley-based group to listen to an overview of its strategy to build demand.

Strategies were created by fellow growers and approved by the nectarine and peach committees and plum board Nov. 30.

One objective is to educate policy makers.

The idea is to work with similar organizations to keep the health aspects of fruit top of mind with policy makers, said Rod Milton, a stone fruit grower and vice chairman of the Nectarine Administrative Committee.

Richardson used the example of the Women, Infants and Children program to illustrate the importance of this tactic.

In the past year, WIC added produce to its list of approved products, which historically excluded fresh fruits and vegetables, he said.

Now participants can buy produce with the vouchers at an average of $9 per month per family, Richardson said.

This amounts to $50 million spent on produce a month through the government program, Richardson said.

“It is these types of positions we need to be looking at,” he added.

Key objectives in the long-term plan include increasing domestic and export demand for stone fruit, providing consumers with a consistent and satisfying experience, increasing grower involvement and improving coordination of marketing among shippers.