Editor’s Note: As of early April, the USDA had not yet commenced the 60-day comment period on the proposed assessment increase, though Villata said at that time the posting could come at any time. Check back for the latest updates.
Over the past few years, as production has steadily increased, the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) has continued to discuss the need to generate additional funding to more aggressively promote our blueberries and to take advantage of the growing scientific knowledge of the healthfulness of our product.
After considerable evaluation and discussion, the USHBC unanimously approved a motion to recommend an increase in the USHBC assessment rate from the current 0.6¢ per pound ($12 per ton) to 0.9¢ per pound ($18 per ton). This proposed assessment increase has been recommended to USDA for rulemaking and publishing in the Federal Register.
Members of the blueberry industry will have the opportunity to comment on the Federal Register posting of this proposal during a 60-day comment period. At the close of the comment period, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture will make a final decision on the proposed assessment increase. The proposal is expected to be posted in the Federal Register in the coming months and, if approved, the new assessment rate could take effect with the 2014 crop.
Crop Has Doubled
The current assessment rate has stood at $12 per ton since the establishment of the council in the year 2000. Additional funding from this proposed assessment increase will allow our industry to expand current market promotion and health research efforts at a time when we face a number of challenges which include:
• Greatly expanded and rapidly growing North American highbush blueberry acreage, which has increased by more than 55% in the past five years from an estimated 71,075 acres in 2005 to 110,290 acres in 2010.
• Expanded acreage has led to a corresponding boom in highbush blueberry production. Newly planted acres, and enhancement of existing acreage, has led to successive records in North American highbush blueberry production. The total crop weighed in at an estimated 589 million pounds in 2012, more than double the total of 237 million pounds produced in 2002.
• Expanded worldwide production of highbush blueberries will lead to a projected supply of more than 1.3 billion pounds of highbush blueberries by the year 2015, with projections of North America accounting for an estimated 735 million pounds of this total.
• Given these production increases, there is a need to significantly increase domestic per capita consumption by the year 2015 from the current level of approximately 36 ounces per person to a projected 50 ounces per person in order to keep pace with supply, a 39% increase in consumption.
• We face the need to bring even more attention to blueberries at a time when many fruit and vegetable groups are joining the health bandwagon and promoting their own health benefits. Many groups are aggressively promoting the healthfulness of their products as they work to carve out their share of consumer attention in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
More Consumers Needed
Given production and competitive concerns, additional funding will allow the USHBC to continue to build upon and greatly expand our promotion of the health awareness of blueberries and reach a larger audience, both here at home and abroad, to encourage greater consumption.
Funding will allow the industry to significantly expand health research efforts and move to more extensive human clinical trials to explore promising developments to date in age related health research, an area which remains a major blueberry purchase motivator.
Funds will also allow for continued food safety and good management practices education to elevate industry awareness and maintain consumer confidence.