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Rule

Cranberries Grown in the States of Massachusetts, et al.; Temporary Suspension of Provisions in the Rules and Regulations

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.

ACTION:

Interim final rule with request for comments.

SUMMARY:

This rule suspends certain sections in the rules and regulations to shorten the appeals procedure for growers who disagree with their sales history determination made by the Cranberry Marketing Committee (Committee) for the 2000/2001 marketing season. Due to the lateness of the season, and the numerous appeals received, the Committee recommended Start Printed Page 55437that review of the subcommittee's determination by the full Committee be suspended to shorten the appeal process during the current season. This time savings is important because harvest is expected to begin soon and final decisions need to be made so growers know how many cranberries handlers can buy from them under this season's volume regulation.

DATES:

Effective September 15, 2000, through November 15, 2000. Comments received by November 13, 2000, will be considered prior to issuance of a final rule.

ADDRESSES:

Interested persons are invited to submit written comments concerning this rule. Comments must be sent to the Docket Clerk, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, room 2525-S, PO Box 96456, Washington, DC 20090-6456; Fax: (202) 720-5698; or E-mail: moab.docketclerk@usda.gov. Comments should reference the docket number and the date and page number of this issue of the Federal Register and will be available for public inspection in the Office of the Docket Clerk during regular business hours or can be viewed at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/​fv/​moab.html.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Patricia A. Petrella or Kenneth G. Johnson, DC Marketing Field Office, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, Suite 2A04, Unit 155, 4700 River Road, Riverdale, Maryland 20737, telephone: (301) 734-5243; Fax: (301) 734-5275; or George Kelhart, Technical Advisor, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, room 2525-S, PO Box 96456, Washington, DC 20090-6456; telephone: (202) 720-2491, Fax: (202) 720-5698. Small businesses may request information on complying with this regulation by contacting Jay Guerber, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, P.O. Box 96456, room 2525-S, Washington, DC 20090-6456; telephone: (202) 720-2491, Fax: (202) 720-5698, or E-mail: Jay.Guerber@usda.gov.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

This rule is issued under Marketing Order No. 929, as amended (7 CFR part 929), regulating the handling of cranberries grown in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Long Island in the State of New York, hereinafter referred to as the “order.” The marketing order is effective under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937, as amended (7 U.S.C. 601-674), hereinafter referred to as the “Act.”

The Department of Agriculture (Department) is issuing this rule in conformance with Executive Order 12866.

This rule has been reviewed under Executive Order 12988, Civil Justice Reform. This rule is not intended to have retroactive effect. This rule will not preempt any State or local laws, regulations, or policies, unless they present an irreconcilable conflict with this rule.

The Act provides that administrative proceedings must be exhausted before parties may file suit in court. Under section 608c(15)(A) of the Act, any handler subject to an order may file with the Secretary a petition stating that the order, any provision of the order, or any obligation imposed in connection with the order is not in accordance with law and request a modification of the order or to be exempted therefrom. Such handler is afforded the opportunity for a hearing on the petition. After the hearing the Secretary would rule on the petition. The Act provides that the district court of the United States in any district in which the handler is an inhabitant, or has his or her principal place of business, has jurisdiction to review the Secretary's ruling on the petition, provided an action is filed not later than 20 days after the date of the entry of the ruling.

This rule temporarily suspends provisions in § 929.125 of the rules and regulations (65 FR 42598, July 11, 2000) to shorten the sales history appeal process for the 2000/2001 marketing season. The Committee is responsible for calculating each grower's sales history on an annual basis. The appeals process includes three levels of review, a review by the appeals subcommittee of the Committee, the full Committee, and finally the Secretary of Agriculture. Due to the lateness of the season, and the numerous appeals received from growers, the Committee unanimously recommended that the review by the Committee be suspended for the 2000/2001 season. This will allow growers to take their appeals directly to the Secretary for a final decision. Final decisions need to be made promptly because the harvest is expected to begin in late September and growers need to know how many cranberries handlers can acquire from them. The Committee unanimously recommended this action at its August 28, 2000, meeting.

Section 929.48 of the order and § 929.149 of the rules and regulations describe how the Committee computes a sales history for each grower. There are different computations used depending on the number of years a grower has been producing on such acreage. The Committee has been updating growers' sales histories each season. The Committee accomplishes this by using information submitted by the grower on a production and eligibility report filed with the Committee. The Committee established a review procedure in § 929.125 of the rules and regulations for growers who disagree with the Committee's computation.

Currently, § 929.125 (65 FR 42598; July 11, 2000) provides that a grower may appeal to an appeals subcommittee within 30 days of receipt of the Committee's determination of his/her sales history. If the grower is not satisfied with the subcommittee's decision, the grower may further appeal to the full Committee. Such grower must notify the full Committee of his or her appeal within 15 days after notification of the subcommittee's decision. The Committee has 15 days to review the appeal. The grower may further appeal to the Secretary, within 15 days after notification of the full Committee's findings, if the grower is not satisfied with the Committee's decision. All decisions by the Secretary are final.

A volume regulation has been implemented for the 2000-2001 cranberry crop in order to address an oversupply situation currently being experienced by the industry. The Committee determined the best method of volume control to be the producer allotment program which provides for an annual marketable quantity and allotment percentage. Marketable quantity is defined as the number of pounds of cranberries needed to meet total demand and to provide for an adequate carryover into the next season. The allotment percentage equals the marketable quantity divided by the total of all growers' sales histories. The Committee is responsible for calculating each grower's sales history on an annual basis.

The appeals procedure as described above could take 60 or more days to complete, and the number of appeals received to date has been large. At the Committee meeting on August 28, 2000, the appeals committee reviewed about 150 grower appeals, and more need to be reviewed at this level.

Due to the lateness of the season, and the numerous appeals received, the Committee has recommended that the review by the full Committee be suspended from the procedures to shorten the process. Thus, growers will be able to take their appeals directly to the Secretary for a final decision if they are not satisfied with the appeals Start Printed Page 55438subcommittee's determinations. Final decisions need to be made soon because the harvest is expected to begin in mid-September and growers need to know their sales histories and how much allotment they have available for market. Under the current procedure, some growers availing themselves of the full appeal process would not know their sales histories and the amount of annual allotment that can be acquired by their handler until after harvest was completed.

Therefore, the Committee recommended that the full Committee review step of the appeals process described in the rules and regulations be temporarily suspended through November 15, 2000, to expedite the process for the current harvest. The complete procedures will be available to growers next season, if needed.

The Regulatory Flexibility Act and Effects on Small Businesses

Pursuant to requirements set forth in the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has considered the economic impact of this action on small entities. Accordingly, AMS has prepared this initial regulatory flexibility analysis.

The purpose of the RFA is to fit regulatory actions to the scale of business subject to such actions in order that small businesses will not be unduly or disproportionately burdened. Marketing orders issued pursuant to the Act, and rules thereunder, are unique in that they are brought about through group action of essentially small entities acting on their own behalf. Thus, both statutes have small entity orientation and compatibility.

There are approximately 20 handlers of cranberries who are subject to regulation under the order and approximately 1,100 producers of cranberries in the regulated area. Small agricultural service firms, which include handlers, are defined by the Small Business Administration (13 CFR 121.201) as those having annual receipts of less than $5,000,000, and small agricultural producers are defined as those having annual receipts of less than $500,000. The majority of cranberry handlers and producers may be classified as small businesses.

Currently, of the 1,100 cranberry growers, between 86 and 95 percent are estimated to have sales equal to or less than $500,000. Fewer than 60 growers are estimated to have sales that would have exceeded this threshold in 1999. Over two-thirds of the U.S. cranberry crop is handled by a grower-owned marketing cooperative. Five other major processors, together with the cooperative, handle over 97 percent of the crop. Using Committee data on volumes handled, AMS has determined that none of these handlers qualify as small businesses under the SBA's definition. The remainder of the crop is marketed by about a dozen grower-handlers who handle their own crops. Dividing the remaining 3 percent of the crop by these grower-handlers, all would be considered small businesses.

This rule temporarily suspends provisions in § 929.125 of the rules and regulations regarding the appeals procedure for growers who disagree with their sales history determination made by the Cranberry Marketing Committee (Committee). The Committee is responsible for calculating each grower's sales history on an annual basis. The appeals process includes a review by the appeals subcommittee, the full Committee, and finally the Secretary. Due to the lateness of the season, and the numerous appeals received, the Committee has recommended that the review by the full Committee be suspended from the procedures to shorten the process. Expeditious final decisions are needed because the 2000 crop harvest is expected to begin in mid-September. Growers need to know their sales histories and how much of their crop can acquired by handlers during the 2000-2001 season under volume regulation.

This action will allow growers, who have filed appeals, to know their sales histories and annual allotments sooner. Handlers need to know this information to plan their acquisitions throughout this crop year under volume regulation. In addition, the Committee has received over 200 appeals and needs to act on them quickly to render decisions as soon as possible.

The Committee discussed the alternative of delegating the Committee's review to the appeals subcommittee, however, such action is not authorized under the rules and regulations. The Committee also discussed not revising the rules and regulations, however, this would not allow the growers who have appealed to know their sales histories and annual allotment as promptly as possible.

This action imposes no additional reporting or recordkeeping requirements on either small or large cranberry handlers. As with all Federal marketing order programs, reports and forms are periodically reviewed to reduce information requirements and duplication by industry and public sector agencies.

The Department has not identified any relevant Federal rules that duplicate, overlap, or conflict with this rule.

Further, the Committee's meeting was widely publicized throughout the cranberry industry and all interested persons were invited to attend the meeting and participate in Committee deliberations on all issues. Like all Committee meetings, the August 28, 2000, meeting was a public meeting and all entities, both large and small, were able to express views on this issue. Finally, interested persons are invited to submit information on the regulatory and informational impacts of this action on small businesses.

A small business guide on complying with fruit, vegetable, and specialty crop marketing agreements and orders may be viewed at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/​fv/​moab.html. Any questions about the compliance guide should be sent to Jay Guerber at the previously mentioned address in the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section.

This rule invites comments on a temporary suspension of provisions in § 929.125 in the rules and regulations currently prescribed under the cranberry marketing order. Any comments received will be considered prior to finalization of this rule.

After consideration of all relevant material presented, including the information and recommendation submitted by the Committee and other available information, it is hereby found that this rule, as hereinafter set forth, will tend to effectuate the declared policy of the Act.

Pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553, it is also found and determined upon good cause that it is impracticable, unnecessary, and contrary to the public interest to give preliminary notice prior to putting this rule into effect, and that good cause exists for not postponing the effective date of this rule until 30 days after publication in the Federal Register because: (1) The 1999-2000 crop harvest is expected to begin in mid-September and growers and handlers need to know their sales histories and annual allotments for delivery purposes; (2) growers and handlers are aware of this action which was unanimously recommended by the Committee at a public meeting; and (3) this interim final rule provides a 60-day comment period, and all comments timely received will be considered prior to finalization of this rule.

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List of Subjects in 7 CFR Part 929

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For the reasons set forth in the preamble, 7 CFR part 929 is amended as follows:

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PART 929—CRANBERRIES GROWN IN THE STATES OF MASSACHUSETTS, RHODE ISLAND, CONNECTICUT, NEW JERSEY, WISCONSIN, MICHIGAN, MINNESOTA, OREGON, WASHINGTON, AND LONG ISLAND IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK

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1. The authority citation for

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Authority: 7 U.S.C. 601-674.

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[Amended]
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2. Section 929.125 is amended by suspending the word “Committee's” everywhere it appears in paragraph (d) and suspending paragraph (c) in its entirety effective September 15, 2000, through November 15, 2000.

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Dated: September 12, 2000.

Robert C. Keeney,

Deputy Administrator, Fruit and Vegetable Programs.

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[FR Doc. 00-23821 Filed 9-12-00; 3:42 pm]

BILLING CODE 3410-02-U