Fiona Ma for State Assembly

Blueberry growers weigh status of commission

TULARE, Calif. — Grower-shippers representing California’s burgeoning blueberry industry have taken the first steps leading to the creation of a state blueberry commission.

Legislation to authorize the commission is nearly complete, and San Francisco Assemblywoman Fiona Ma plans to introduce the bill, said George Soares during the annual meeting of the California Blueberry Association Feb. 17.

Soares is a partner in Kahn, Soares & Conway LLP, a Sacramento law firm that specializes in lobbying. The deadline to introduce the bill is Feb. 27.

In 2007, California ranked among the top five blueberry producing states, but it dropped to No. 7 in 2008 when Georgia and North Carolina significantly boosted production. California grew 14 million (12.5 million for the fresh market) of the 147 million pounds of blueberries in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Acreage is on the upswing, at 2,500 acres in California, up 500 acres from 2006, the first year the USDA reported on the state’s blueberry production.

The proposed bill provides for assessments of up to 2.5 cents per pound, said association board member Tom Avinelis, but the assessment in the commission’s initial years would likely be closer to 1.5 cents per pound. At 14 million pounds, growers would pay $210,000 with a 1.5-cent assessment.

Creation of the commission could push California up in the rankings, Avinelis said.

In California, legislation is required to establish commissions that assess grower-shippers and lobby for and promote agricultural products. Should the bill pass the full Assembly, it will go to the Senate, Soares said.

If the enabling legislation is signed into law, it will become effective Jan. 1. After that, Soares said, a grower referendum is required.

The pending creation of a blueberry commission is not likely to mean the dissolution of the California Blueberry Association. Because private associations enjoy freedoms that fall outside the purview of governmental entities, Soares urged grower-shippers to keep the association in force.