A California trade association will soon rebrand itself as the commodity it serves grows into the single-largest segment of the state’s agricultural economy.
Touting itself as the only organization solely dedicated to the California almond industry, the Ripon-based Almond Hullers and Processors Association (AHPA) will soon become the Almond Alliance of California (AAC).
According to Dick Cunningham, board chairman for AHPA, the change really reflects what the non-profit organization has been doing for years: helping the almond industry by advocating on behalf of growers.
Though the organization was started in 1980 as a means to promote the hulling and shelling facet of the almond industry, Cunningham says times have changed.
When Cunningham’s father, Ham, was on the AHPA board as one of the founding members almond growers spent nearly all of their time in the field. As a grower, huller and sheller himself, Dick Cunningham says much of his time now is spent in the office dealing with a host of regulatory issues his father never considered or heard of.
“All these issues today go down to the grower level,” Cunningham says.
AHPA President Kelly Covello says the change brings with it a new focus.
“We continue to value and serve our core members, but our vision and name need to reflect a broader mandate,” she said.
Part of that mandate will be to entice broader industry participation by creating two new membership levels for growers. Individual growers can choose to join and pay on a per-acre basis, or can choose to pay a tenth of a cent per pound through their handler, much the same way the Almond Board collects its mandatory assessment through almond handlers.
The goal, according to Cunningham, is to raise additional funds for better industry advocacy.
“We’ve been taking on advocacy for the almond industry even though we really don’t have the budget for it,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t want to back away from that part of it. This is why we decided to do a strategic plan, which would drive where we needed to go with our financial plan.”
Cunningham continued: “We shouldn’t have a $6 billion industry supported by a trade association with an annual budget of only $300,000. That just doesn’t make sense.”
Covello says consensus for their plan was sought earlier this year through a meeting AHPA leadership held with leaders from the Almond Board, Blue Diamond and The Wonderful Company.
The change recognizes the longstanding cooperation it’s had with ABC, and a formalized agreement that has been in place for the past three years.
Covello previously worked for the Almond Board as manager of the industry relations department before she was hired by AHPA in 2010. Prior to that, her predecessor with AHPA worked closely with ABC to utilize the reams of research generated by the organization.
Today Covello sits on two ABC committees.
By leveraging the relationship with ABC, Covello says she is able to better advocate on behalf of the almond industry, something the ABC is prohibited from as a federal marketing order.
“When it comes to going to Sacramento to talk with legislators about what should or shouldn’t be done, they (the Almond Board) can’t do that, but we can,” Cunningham added.
According to Cunningham, the Almond Board has amassed volumes of industry-funded research reports over the years that have been used to educate regulators and lawmakers about the California almond industry.
With the reorganization to AAC will come a new dues structure, which will receive final board approval in June. Final implementation of the change will take place Aug. 1.
Looking ahead in the early days of a strategic planning effort that began more than a year ago, AHPA hired a lobbyist in Sacramento to speak on behalf of the industry. That move happened at the urging of former California Food and Agriculture Secretary Bill Lyons, Jr., who is long-time friends with Cunningham.
According to Cunningham, Lyons strongly urged AHPA “to be at the table” in Sacramento. Lyons, who farms west of Modesto, currently serves as the chairman of the APHA political action committee.
The PAC will be just one of the tools the new AAC uses on behalf of its members as the organization continues the relationship-building process with lawmakers and regulators.
Covello says AAC will also be involved in programs and services aimed in part at addressing published by the mainstream media and regulatory efforts that seek to take away useful crop protection tools upon which the industry relies.