Just a little more than a month remains for comments on the termination of Federal Marketing Order 959, which regulated the handling of onions grown in South Texas.
The AMS/USDA has proposed termination of the marketing order “and the rules and regulations issued thereunder” as the result of an insufficient vote to continue the order during a periodic referendum conducted by the USDA last fall. Comments will be accepted until Oct. 4 and MUST be submitted to the Docket Clerk either by email, post-marked mail or online at https://www.regulations.gov/document/AMS-SC-21-0003-0001.
Send comments to Docket Clerk Marketing Order Administration Branch Fruit and Vegetable Programs AMS, USDA 1400 Independence Ave., SW STOP 0237 Washington, D.C., 20250-0237 RE: Docket No. AMS-SC-21-0003; SC21- 959-2 PR Federal Register Vol. 86, No. 148/August 5, 2021
According to a memo from Dante Galeazzi with the South Texas Onion Industry sent out in August, “ All comments should reference the document number, date and page number of this issue of the Federal Register, and can be viewed at http://www.regulations.gov. All comments submitted in response to this proposal will be included in the record and will be made available to the public. Please be advised that the identity of the individuals or entities submitting the comments will be made public at the online posted proposed termination via http://www.regulations.gov/.”
The issue has been a convoluted one, with the marketing order suspended this spring and then temporarily reinstated so regulations would remain in place during the South Texas onion shipping season.
But the ultimate outcome of the fall 2020 referendum was the recommendation for termination of the order, according to the memo sent out by South Texas in August.
The proposed termination of the marketing order can be read in its entirety at https://www.regulations.gov/document/AMS-SC-21-0003-0001, with the explanation in the body of the proposal stating, “ This action is based on the results of a continuance referendum in which producers failed to support the continuation of the Order. USDA believes termination of this program would be appropriate as the Order is no longer favored by industry producers.”
In the August 2021 newsletter from the National Onion Association, NOA Executive Vice President Greg Yielding said the South Texas Onion Committee’s marketing order “requires USDA to conduct a continuance referendum every six years. The USDA did just that last fall, in which only 57 percent of the STOC producers (representing 53 percent of onions produced) favored continuance. To continue, two-thirds of the producers voting, or those representing two-thirds of the volume produced needed to vote in favor.”
The NOA newsletter noted, “Last fall, however, many growers in Texas, as elsewhere, were dealing with COVID 19 and labor shortages, not to mention horrific weather. Many have said they were not even aware that the USDA held a referendum on the marketing order.” Yielding said, “Some people didn’t know there was a vote. There was COVID, and many weren’t even getting in their mail.”
The NOA Executive Director went on to say, “I haven’t spoken to one grower in Texas who wants this marketing order to go away.”
The NOA said the loss of the marketing order will “spell trouble for the entire onion industry. In fact, it could drive down prices and render grade standards moot, bringing down the entire domestic onion industry.”
It said, “The marketing order is on the block to be terminated through USDA. But onion growers across the country can make a huge difference in this scenario by writing a note to the USDA to express concerns.”
Urging the industry to unite and send their comments to the USDA, the NOA said that “U.S. onion industry grading standards are governed by two marketing orders: the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Federal Marketing Order No. 958 (June 5-March 9) and the South Texas Onion Committee Federal Marketing Order No. 959 (March 10-June 4).”
The newsletter said, “Together, the orders impose grading standards on all imported onions for the entire year. If the STOC order goes away, there’s a little over two months in which the proverbial floodgates open for imported onions with no restrictions on size or inspections, especially at the Texas border with Mexico, which sees massive imports into the United States.”
And Yielding warned, “If it’s not there, it will open the floodgates for Canadian, Mexican, Chinese, Dutch, all kinds of onions coming in this country with no grade or inspection standards. If it goes away, and a year from now growers in Texas say they want to reinstate the order, you won’t get the same protections because of trade agreements that the U.S. has engaged in through the years.”
Yielding “is seeking help from throughout the industry to sway USDA Tom Vilsack to either keep the marketing order in effect or conduct another referendum. Anyone can comment on the proposed termination. “Wherever you grow onions, you need to say this would be detrimental because it would remove the grade and inspections requirements for imported onions, and it will affect all U.S. growers in a negative way.”
The NOA recommends individuals use the comment opportunity to “describe how this will affect your operation; discuss how losing the market will lower the price of onions across the country due to unbridled imports; discuss the importance of marketing orders in terms of research, promotions; discuss the importance of American labor laws, such as better pay, housing, compared to some foreign practices; and discuss American onion growers’ strict adherence to food safety guidelines, while import practices are unknown.”