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USDA Approves National Assessment Hike

The USDA has approved the blueberry assessment increase sought by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

The increase, from $12 a ton to $18, was published in the Federal Register on Sept. 30, one day before the government shut down.

Assessments on domestic production will increase beginning with the 2014 crop. The council will begin collecting the higher assessment on imports beginning Jan. 1, according to what growers learned at the fall USHBC meeting.

The approval was gratifying, especially considering that the USDA rejected an attempt to raise it to $24 a ton in 2009, said Doug Krahmer, chair of the council’s finance committee and national treasurer for the council.

Krahmer said he believes a change in tactic helped the council gain approval of the assessment increase.

Rather than groups submitting a single letter in support with several signatures, this time, the council suggested that individual members of groups each submit letters to the USDA, either in support or in opposition to the increase.

The result was “the overwhelming majority” of comments submitted to the USDA this time around were in favor of the increase, Krahmer said.

“Absolutely, that made a difference,” he said.

Also working in the USHBC’s favor, the council made it clear the additional funds generated by the increased assessment would be used to fund promotions and human health research. The council also drew up a business plan to meet its goal of increasing per capita consumption of blueberries in the U.S. from the current average of 32 ounces a year to 50 ounces a year by 2017.

To meet the goal, it was determined more funds were needed, said Dave Brazelton, chair of the USHBC’s health research committee.

Those facts were clearly articulated to blueberry growers, according to USHBC members.

The assessment increase is expected to bring in an additional $1.8 million in revenue, with about $1 million coming from domestic production and $800,000 from the increased assessment on imports.

Also at the fall USHBC meeting, held Oct. 2-4 in Wilmington, N.C., the council was given its first look at the results of the most recent consumer attitude study.

Some highlights: For the first time, blueberries came in as consumers’ favorite berry, topping the perennial favorite strawberry. Plus, more than 90 percent of people queried know that blueberries are a healthy fruit.

“I remember when that was 40 percent,” Brazelton said.



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