The U.S. Department of Agriculture, after reviewing comments from members of the blueberry industry, has approved the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) request for an assessment rate increase to $18 per ton. The announcement was made in the September 30, 2013 edition of the Federal Register. The increase will take effect beginning January 1, 2014.
U.S. Customs will begin collecting the $18 per ton assessment on imported blueberries beginning January 1st. Increased assessments will also be levied starting with the 2014 domestic blueberry crop with payments due to the USHBC by November 30, 2014. The new assessment rate will be reflected in the 2014 assessment reporting forms which will be sent to growers and handlers at the start of the 2014 domestic blueberry season.
As blueberry production has steadily increased, the USHBC has discussed the need to generate additional funding to more aggressively promote highbush blueberries and take advantage of the growing scientific knowledge of the healthfulness of our product. After considerable evaluation and discussion, the USHBC unanimously approved a motion in October of 2012 to recommend an increase in the USHBC assessment rate from the original level of 0.6 cent per pound ($12 per ton) to 0.9 cent per pound ($18 per ton). The current assessment rate has stood at $12 per ton since the establishment of the Council in the year 2000. The proposed rule was published in the May 20, 2013 edition of the Federal Register for a sixty day comment period. USDA then reviewed these comments and made the final favorable decision on the assessment increase in September.
Additional funding from this first assessment increase in thirteen years will allow our industry to expand current market promotion and health research efforts at a time when we face a number of challenges. North American highbush blueberry acreage, which has increased by +55% in the past five years, has moved from an estimated 71,075 acres in 2005 to 110,290 acres in 2010. Expanded acreage has led to a corresponding boom in highbush blueberry production. Newly planted acres, and enhancement of existing acreage, has led to successive records in North American highbush blueberry production which currently totals an estimated 640 million pounds in 2013 more than two times the total of 250 million pounds produced just ten years ago.
Given these production increases, there is a need to significantly increase domestic per capita consumption by the year 2015 from the current level of approximately 36 ounces per person to a projected 50 ounces per person in order to keep pace with supply, a +38% increase in consumption.
Given production and competitive concerns, the additional funding generated through the $18 per ton assessment will allow the USHBC to continue to build upon and greatly expand promotion of the health awareness of blueberries and reach a larger audience, both here at home and abroad, to encourage greater consumption. Funding will allow our industry to significantly expand health research efforts and move to more extensive human clinical trials to explore promising developments to date in age related health research, an area which remains a major blueberry purchase motivator. Funds will also allow for continued food safety and good management practices education to elevate industry awareness and maintain consumer confidence.