Honey producers vote down tax plan

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 16, 2011 

WASHINGTON – Honey producers have soured on a proposed plan to tax themselves for additional research and advertising, revealing a split within an industry that faces foreign competition and some inhuman foes.

On Wednesday, the Agriculture Department formally ended voting procedures for a second honey promotion program akin to those famous for milk, beef and cotton ads. Officials pulled the plug after honey producers voted the program down.

"It failed to gain the momentum it needed, for whatever reason," Los Banos, Calif.-based beekeeper Gene Brandi said Wednesday.

The failure of the proposed producer-funded program leaves intact the existing National Honey Board, a research and promotion effort funded by packers and importers.

"At least we still have something," said Brandi, a former president of the National Honey Board.

The proposal to set up a separate producer-funded honey program failed by a 41-to 59 percent vote in an industry referendum conducted last year. Though Brandi said "it's not a great loss," because of the National Honey Board's ongoing work, the rejection still stung U.S. producers who thought the idea had promise.

"We all know that promotion dollars are important in today's economy," honey producer Jerry Brown, who has California offices in the San Joaquin Valley town of Hickman, noted during a public comment period.

Brown, whose company also has offices in Haddam, Kan., added that U.S. honey producers need more "research dollars dedicated to (the) cause" of fighting Colony Collapse Disorder. The term refers to a still-mysterious disappearance of bees, with some colonies losing up to 90 percent of their population.

The bee colony devastation is particularly threatening to regions like California's San Joaquin Valley, where the almond crop alone requires some 1.3 million bee colonies annually for pollination.

"If we had more research money, we would be able to figure out how to stop diseases like this before they become a widespread epidemic," argued commercial beekeeper Steve Park, who is based in California's Shasta County.

Beekeeper Richard Adee, who maintains large operations in South Dakota and in Bakersfield, Calif., further added in written comments that "unfair trade practices by foreign producers" have undermined domestic production. Imports now account for more than 70 percent of U.S. honey sales, compared to 40 percent in 1986, Adee said.

Nonetheless, other producers remained skeptical about the idea of paying more for ads and science. The proposed program would have charged U.S. producers two cents a pound, raising an estimated $1.9 million.

The existing honey board charges large packers and importers one penny per pound. "I don't feel that another board is going to help me," South Dakota-based beekeeper Verald Baysinger declared. "It's hard enough to make a living, without making a living for somebody else."

Gary Grigg, president of the Washington-based Silverbow Honey Co., added that the new fees would amount to "an additional and unwarranted expense for the already burdened U.S. honey producers."

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