Western Pistachio Association wants to fill void left by CPC demise

Few people have heard of the Western Pistachio Association (WPA). But if you are a pistachio producer, you will — if you haven't already.

It was formed about 15 years ago as an insurance association in case the California Pistachio Commission (CPC) was voted into oblivion, which happened this spring when Paramount Farms flexed its muscle and killed the marketing order.

WPA is now trying to pick up the pieces from the CPC explosion.

Michael Woolf of Woolf Farming, Huron, Calif., is chairman of WPA and the driving force, along with longtime Washington, D. C., pistachio industry lobbyist Bob Schramm, in hastily ramping up WPA into a replacement for CPC.

Right now WPA has only about 200 members, who voluntarily pay $2 per acre — which won't generate the $1.5 million the association needs to ramp up WPA.

At an annual meeting held during the CPA annual conference at Monterey, Woolf told a packed room that WPA will immediately raise dues to $5 per acre until the next crop comes in, then change the member assessment to 1.75 cents per pound.

Woolf was encouraged by the turnout at the meeting. “There weren't this many people in the room when the California Pistachio Commission idea started,” he said

Schramm and Woolf admit it's difficult for a volunteer organization to be as effective as a mandatory assessment marketing order or commission. But Schramm points out that there are successful volunteer groups in California, citing specifically California Citrus Mutual, the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, and Western Growers.

Woolf says the new focus of WPA is to protect the investment in CPA by taking over some, but not all, of the commission's activities.

WPA is focusing on maintaining production research, monitoring world pistachio trade to look for unfair trade practices, maintaining the federal Market Access Program (MAP), and perhaps maintaining the nutritional research program now funded by CPC.

Woolf admits the WPA's new focus was hastily put together in a 10-day period with a series of conference calls among the 20 board members, which will be expanded to 25 with the new projects. WPA welcomes input from everyone in the industry, Woolf says.

Asked about the generic promotion and marketing program now funded through CPC, Woolf says the processors have indicated they will pick up that part of the CPC program.

Historically, Woolf says, voluntary associations have had problems with “free riders” who are unwilling to pay dues and let others take care of the problems.

“It would be unfair and unwise to ignore the huge investment you have in your pistachio business and rely on others to carry your water,” he says.

“As I look forward at the estimates for production in the coming years, I am both excited and concerned. We can't assume things will be the same — we need to remember the lessons that got us here. Our industry's founding fathers knew the importance of working for the benefit of the entire industry.”

Woolf said he believes WPA “provides the best opportunity for our industry to move forward.”

The WPA hastily put together the annual meeting to coincide with CPC's last conference. “We have to hit the ground running and not wait six months” until the CPC is out of business,” says Woolf.

The goal is to either set up a WPA office in the Valley or hire a management firm to oversee the organization.

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