Courtesy of Washington State University
Raspberry growers and importers have voted against continuing a national checkoff for promoting and researching the processed crop seven years after overwhelmingly approving the program.
The USDA, which oversees the checkoff, has announced that only 43 percent of eligible farmers and importers voted in favor of the checkoff, falling well short of the 50 percent needed to keep funding the National Processed Raspberry Council.
In 2011, about 88 percent of growers and importers voted to establish the program by assessing about 1 cent per pound of processed red raspberries to raise more than $1 million a year for research and promotions.
The national checkoff likely fell out of favor for economic reasons, since even a penny a pound is expensive at a time that U.S. growers are selling red processed raspberries below the cost of production, said Henry Bierlink, executive director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission.
“It’s coming out of really tough times,” Bierlink said. “The red raspberry industry is in a real funk right now.”
Because the council was funded by importers as well as domestic farmers, it could not specifically promote U.S. fruit and instead effectively encouraged international trade in the crop, he said.
“It had to, because those were the people paying the bills,” Bierlink said, noting that assessments on foreign raspberries represented about 45 percent of the council’s budget.
Given the competition from farmers in Chile, Eastern Europe and Mexico, many U.S. producers of red raspberries probably didn’t feel trade was working in their favor and wanted to go in a different direction, he said.
In essence, if the council were effective, it would be expanding markets for processed red raspberries that domestic growers weren’t going to be able to fill due to their higher cost of production, he said.
Regulations on labor, food safety and other aspects of agricultural production in the U.S. made growing the crop domestically less cost-effective, Bierlink said.
“Because of all the things our growers here have to meet, it’s tough to compete,” he said.
Julie Schedeen, board member of the council and a farmer from Boring, Ore., said she didn’t want to speculate about why other growers voted against the checkoff.
“I’m disappointed we’re not seeing it continue,” she said, but added that the Washington Red Raspberry Commission and Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission would continue funding research and promotions to help the industry.