(May 23) DINUBA, Calif. — The California Tree Fruit Agreement received a mostly favorable review from a light turnout of grower-shippers as the U.S. Department of Agriculture held a listening session May 20 to help determine the future of the peach and nectarine marketing order.

The USDA planned the session after a January referendum vote by growers that came up shy of a two-thirds favorable vote to continue the marketing order programs.

In such instances, the USDA weight advantages and disadvantages of the programs and determines whether they should continue.

Written comments on the marketing order will be accepted until June 20.

A number of speakers called for continuation of the marketing order with less emphasis on marketing programs and more focus on education programs for retailers and the trade and providing growers more useful information.

The CTFA has already made many of the recommended adjustments, including a near phaseout of marketing functions, said Blair Richardson, president of the Reedley-based agreement.

Richardson blamed complacency among grower-shippers for a lack of interest in the referendum and a light turnout for the listening session. It is a shift from well-attended district grower meetings held by the agreement in 2002.

“Over 100 people attended the first meeting,” Richardson said.

The listening session, which ran from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., attracted a total of 40 speakers. Richardson said the agreement expected 50 to 60 speakers, but some of those who spoke represented other grower-shippers that couldn’t make it to the session.

But the peach and nectarine marketing order programs face some opposition and criticism.

“The peach and nectarine marketing orders should be immediately terminated for failing to meet the USDA’s two-thirds criteria,” said Dan Gerawan, president of Gerawan Farming Inc., Reedley, and an opponent of mandatory assessments for marketing programs.

Gerawan, speaking to Charles Parrott, associate deputy administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service, and a small audience, questioned why listening sessions were needed when the “no” votes prevailed in the peach and nectarine referendum.

“In 1990 the plum marketing order was terminated immediately when only 60% favored continuation,” Gerawan said.

Gerawan added that proponents of the marketing orders are always better organized and will undoubtedly make the most noise at the listening sessions.

Dennis Parnagian, president of Fowler Packing Co., Fresno, spoke in favor of the peach and nectarine marketing order, but expressed disappointment that listening sessions had to be held.

Parnagian said the agreement alone won’t guarantee his success or prevent him from failing, but it provides an equal platform for big and small companies in terms of services and information.

Another speaker, David Boldt, a Parlier peach grower and packer, called on the USDA to continue the marketing order.

Boldt said marketing orders establish minimum standards for California peaches and nectarines.

“Without marketing orders, different counties and states would create their own standards,” he said.