Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is adopting, as a final rule, without change, an interim final rule that extended the deadline for raisin handlers to redeem diversion certificates issued under the 2001 raisin diversion program (RDP). The deadline is specified under the Federal marketing order for California raisins (order). The order regulates the handling of raisins produced from grapes grown in California and is administered locally by the Raisin Administrative Committee (RAC). This action gave producers additional time to sell their certificates to handlers and thus be compensated for diverting their 2001 production, which is the intent of the RDP.
Effective April 24, 2002.Start Further Info
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Maureen T. Pello, Senior Marketing Specialist, California Marketing Field Office, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, 2202 Monterey Street, suite 102B, Fresno, California 93721; telephone: (559) 487-5901, Fax: (559) 487-5906; or George Kelhart, Technical Advisor, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW STOP 0237, Washington, DC 20250-0237; 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, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW STOP 0237, Washington, DC 20250-0237; telephone: (202) 720-2491, Fax: (202) 720-5698, or E-mail: Jay.Guerber@usda.gov.End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information
This rule is issued under Marketing Agreement and Order No. 989 (7 CFR part 989), both as amended, regulating the handling of raisins produced from grapes grown in California, hereinafter referred to as the “order.” The 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 USDA is issuing this rule in conformance with Executive Order 12866.
This rule has been reviewed under Executive Order 12988, Civil Justice Reform. This rule continues in effect an interim final rule that extended the deadline for handlers to redeem diversion certificates issued under the 2001 RDP for Natural (sun-dried) Seedless (NS) raisins. The deadline was extended from December 17, 2001, to January 18, 2002, and applied only to certificates unsold by producers to handlers as of December 18, 2001. This rule will not preempt any State or local laws, regulations, or policies, unless they present an irreconcilable conflict with this rule. Start Printed Page 13561
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 USDA 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 USDA 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 USDA'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 continues in effect an interim final rule that extended the deadline for handlers to redeem diversion certificates issued under the 2001 NS RDP. The deadline was extended from December 17, 2001, to January 18, 2002, and applied only to certificates unsold by producers as of December 18, 2001. This action gave producers additional time to sell their certificates to handlers and thus be compensated for diverting their 2001 production, which is the intent of the RDP. This action was recommended by the RAC at a meeting on December 11, 2001, by a near unanimous vote of 36 in favor, 2 opposed (believed the RAC should adhere to the current deadline), and 1 abstained. All certificates were redeemed by January 18, 2002.
Volume Regulation Provisions
The order provides authority for volume regulation designed to promote orderly marketing conditions, stabilize prices and supplies, and improve producer returns. When volume regulation is in effect, a certain percentage of the California raisin crop may be sold by handlers to any market (free tonnage) while the remaining percentage must be held by handlers in a reserve pool (reserve) for the account of the RAC. Reserve raisins are disposed of through various programs authorized under the order. For example, reserve raisins may be sold by the RAC to handlers for free use or to replace part of the free tonnage they exported; carried over as a hedge against a short crop the following year; or may be disposed of in other outlets not competitive with those for free tonnage raisins, such as government purchase, distilleries, or animal feed. Net proceeds from sales of reserve raisins are ultimately distributed to producers.
Raisin Diversion Program
The RDP is another program concerning reserve raisins authorized under the order and may be used as a means for controlling overproduction. Authority for the program is provided in § 989.56 of the order. Paragraph (e) of that section provides authority for the RAC to establish, with the approval of USDA, such rules and regulations as may be necessary for the implementation and operation of an RDP. Accordingly, additional procedures and deadlines are specified in § 989.156.
Pursuant to these sections, the RAC must meet by November 30 each crop year to review raisin data, including information on production, supplies, market demand, and inventories. If the RAC determines that the available supply of raisins, including those in the reserve pool, exceeds projected market needs, it can decide to implement a diversion program, and announce the amount of tonnage eligible for diversion during the subsequent crop year. Producers who wish to participate in the RDP must submit an application to the RAC prior to December 20. The RAC conducts a lottery if the tonnage applied far exceeds what has been allotted. RAC staff then notifies producers whether they have been accepted into the program.
Approved producers curtail their production by vine removal or some other means established by the RAC. Such producers receive a certificate the following fall from the RAC which represents the quantity of raisins diverted. Producers sell these certificates to handlers who pay producers for the free tonnage applicable to the diversion certificate minus the established harvest cost for the diverted tonnage. Handlers redeem the certificates by presenting them to the RAC by December 15 (Monday, December 17, 2001, for the 2001 RDP since December 15 fell on a Saturday) and paying an amount equal to the established harvest cost plus payment for receiving, storing, fumigating, handling, and inspecting the tonnage represented on the certificate. The RAC then gives the handler raisins from the prior year's reserve pool in an amount equal to the tonnage represented on the diversion certificate. The new crop year's volume regulation percentages are applied to the diversion tonnage acquired by the handler (as if the handler had bought raisins directly from a producer).
2001 NS Diversion Program
The 2000-01 California NS raisin crop was the largest on record with final deliveries of raisins from producers to handlers totaling 432,616 tons. This compares to the 10-year average of 344,303 tons. With this large crop, 203,330 tons of NS raisins were set aside in a reserve pool. Of that reserve tonnage, 89,076 tons were ultimately allocated to a diversion program. As of December 1, 2001, 70,529 tons of diversion certificates had been acquired by handlers. It was reported at the December 11, 2001, RAC meeting, by RAC staff that the status of about 2,000 tons of 2001 diversion certificates was unknown.
The RAC met on December 11, 2001, and addressed a concern expressed by some producers with the 2001 RDP. Some producers were having trouble selling their 2001 diversion certificates to handlers. There was concern that some certificates may remain unsold and unredeemed by the December 15 deadline (or Monday, December 17, 2001, for the 2001 RDP since December 15 fell on a Saturday). Several reasons were mentioned as to why this was occurring. The California raisin industry as a whole is experiencing a severe economic downturn. Two short crops in 1998 and 1999 along with other factors caused producer prices to drop drastically for the 2000 crop, marking the first time in about 13 years that prices had fallen. The value of handler inventories has likewise fallen which has contributed to handler difficulties in securing financing to purchase diversion certificates from producers. In addition, some handlers do not need any more raisins to meet their market needs. In some instances, producers tried to negotiate a premium price for their certificates with handlers.
After deliberating various options (discussed in the following section of this rule regarding the Regulatory Flexibility Analysis), the RAC recommended extending the deadline for handlers to redeem 2001 diversion certificates from December 17, 2001, to January 18, 2002. The extension applied only to 2001 certificates unsold by producers as of December 18, 2001. Producers still holding certificates had to have the certificates verified and stamped appropriately by the RAC by December 21, 2001, to indicate that such certificates were valid until January 18, 2002. Handlers could then purchase these certificates from producers and redeem them for 2000-01 crop reserve raisins following prescribed procedures Start Printed Page 13562in § 989.156(k). This action gave producers still holding certificates additional time to sell their certificates to handlers, and gave handlers additional time to secure financing to purchase the certificates from producers and redeem them with the RAC. All certificates were redeemed by January 18, 2002. Thus, producers will be compensated for diverting their 2001 production, which is the intent of the RDP. Section 989.156(k) was changed accordingly for the 2001 RDP only.
Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis
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 final 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 issued 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 California raisins who are subject to regulation under the order and approximately 4,500 raisin producers in the regulated area. Small agricultural firms are defined by the Small Business Administration (13 CFR 121.201) as those having annual receipts of less that $5,000,000, and small agricultural producers are defined as those having annual receipts of less than $750,000. Thirteen of the 20 handlers subject to regulation have annual sales estimated to be at least $5,000,000, and the remaining 7 handlers have sales less than $5,000,000. No more than 7 handlers, and a majority of producers, of California raisins may be classified as small entities.
This rule continues to revise §§ 989.156(k) of the order's rules and regulations regarding the RDP. Under an RDP, producers receive certificates from the RAC for curtailing their production to reduce burdensome supplies. The certificates represent diverted tonnage. Producers sell the certificates to handlers who, in turn, redeem the certificates with the RAC for raisins from the prior year's reserve pool. This rule continues in effect an interim final rule that extended the deadline for handlers to redeem 2001 diversion certificates with the RAC from December 17, 2001, to January 18, 2002, and applied only to certificates unsold by producers to handlers as of December 18, 2001. All certificates were redeemed by January 18, 2002. Authority for this action is provided in § 989.56(e) of the order.
Regarding the impact of this action on affected entities, producers who curtailed 2001 production and had trouble selling their diversion certificates to handlers had additional time to sell their certificates to handlers. Handlers pay producers for the free tonnage applicable to the diversion certificate minus the established harvest cost for the diverted tonnage. For the 2001 RDP, the industry average free tonnage price applied to diversion certificates was $854 per ton, and applicable harvest costs as established by the RAC were $340 per ton. Preliminary volume regulation percentages for the 2001-02 crop were announced by the RAC at 56 percent free and 44 percent reserve. Thus, using these figures, if a producer was issued a certificate for 100 tons of raisins, he/she would be paid $138.24 per ton by the handler, or a total of $13,824 (($854 per ton × 100 tons × .56) minus (100 tons × $340 per ton harvest cost)). Extending the deadline gave producers additional time to sell their certificates and earn some income for not producing a 2001 crop.
Regarding the impact of this action on handlers, handlers experiencing financial difficulty had additional time to arrange for financing through likely extending lines of credit with financial institutions. Handlers pay producers for the free tonnage applicable to the diversion certificate minus the $340 per ton harvest cost. Handlers redeem the certificates for 2000-01 crop NS reserve raisins and pay the RAC the $340 per ton harvest cost, plus payment for bins ($20 per ton) and for receiving, storing, fumigating, handling (currently totaling $46 per ton) and inspecting (currently $9.00 per ton) the tonnage represented on the certificate (or a total of $415 per ton). In the above example, the handler would redeem the 100-ton certificate with the RAC, pay the RAC $41,500 ($415 per ton × 100 tons), and receive 44 tons (.44 × 100 tons) of raisins from the 2000-01 reserve pool.
In addition, the $41,500 in the above example paid by the handler to the RAC would be allocated to the 2000-01 reserve pool and be used to pay remaining pool expenses or be distributed to 2000-01 reserve pool equity holders (producers). Thus, all such equity holders could potentially benefit from this action.
Several alternatives to the recommended action were considered by the RAC and/or by the RAC's Administrative Issues Subcommittee. It was proposed that the RAC purchase unsold diversion certificates from producers. However, the order currently provides no authority for this. In addition, there are concerns as to how this would impact future raisin diversion programs, in particular, whether the integrity of the RDP could be maintained.
It was also proposed that a late fee be added to handlers' costs for redeeming diversion certificates after December 17, 2001. However, the order provides no authority for such a late charge. Another option considered was to take no action and adhere to the December deadline. Some industry members believe that there is no guarantee that producers can sell their harvested crop each season, and there should likewise be no “guarantee” that producers can sell their diversion certificates.
There was also consideration of other extension dates besides January 18, 2002. However, after much deliberation, the majority of RAC members believe that extending the deadline to January 18, 2002, was the best solution to this situation. This date gives the RAC sufficient time before it recommends final volume regulation percentages to ensure that all redeemed diversion certificates are properly reported as 2001 acquisitions by handlers and included in the 2001-02 crop estimate.
This rule imposes no additional reporting or recordkeeping requirements on either small or large raisin handlers. In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. Chapter 35), the information collection requirement referred to in this rule (i.e., the application) has been approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under OMB Control No. 0581-0178. 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. Finally, USDA has not identified any relevant Federal rules that duplicate, overlap, or conflict with this rule.
Further, the RAC's meeting on December 11, 2001, and the RAC's Administrative Issues Subcommittee meeting on December 5, 2001, where this action was deliberated were all public meetings widely publicized throughout the raisin industry. All interested persons were invited to attend the meetings and participate in the industry's deliberations.
An interim final rule concerning this action was published in the Federal Register on December 19, 2001 (66 FR Start Printed Page 1356365423). Copies of the rule were mailed by RAC staff to all RAC members and alternates, the Raisin Bargaining Association, handlers and dehydrators. In addition, the rule was made available through the Internet by the Office of the Federal Register and USDA. That rule provided for a 15-day comment period that ended on January 3, 2002. One comment was received.
The commenter opposed extending the redemption deadline, expressing concern with changing the rules to accommodate a few producers while the majority of producers were able to sell their certificates by the December deadline. The commenter, who is also a handler, also expressed concern that the extension would apply to producers who had tried to negotiate a premium price for their diversion certificates. The commenter stated that, in such instances, it released the producers from their sales contract.
Similar concerns regarding producers who tried to negotiate a premium price for their diversion certificates with handlers were raised at the RAC meeting by RAC members as well. However, other reasons were given at the meeting as to why some producers were having trouble selling their certificates. As stated earlier in this rule, the California raisin industry as a whole is experiencing a severe economic downturn. Two short crops in 1998 and 1999 along with other factors caused producer prices to drop drastically for the 2000 crop, marking the first time in about 13 years that prices had fallen. The value of handler inventories has likewise fallen which has contributed to handler difficulties in securing financing to purchase diversion certificates from producers. In addition, some handlers do not need any more raisins to meet their market needs. In light of the unusual circumstances currently facing the California raisin industry, the majority of RAC members favored extending the deadline until January 18, 2002. The intent of the RDP is to divert tonnage and reduce supplies, while providing some compensation to producers. Extending the deadline resulted in redemption of all certificates, thus helping to achieve the program's intent.
The commenter also expressed concern that the RAC's statistical report regarding acquisitions of diversion certificates did not appear to reconcile with the RAC staff's report on the status of all diversion certificates. Such a discrepancy would not adversely affect this rulemaking, but may raise compliance issues.
Accordingly, no changes will be made to the rule, based on the comment received.
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.
After consideration of all relevant material presented, including the information and recommendation submitted by the RAC, the comment received, and other available information, it is hereby found that finalizing this interim final rule, as hereinafter set forth, will tend to effectuate the declared policy of the Act.Start List of Subjects
List of Subjects in 7 CFR Part 989End List of Subjects Start Part
PART 989—RAISINS PRODUCED FROM GRAPES GROWN IN CALIFORNIAEnd Part Start Amendment Part
Accordingly, the interim final rule amendingEnd Amendment Part Start Signature
Dated: March 18, 2002.
Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service.
[FR Doc. 02-7107 Filed 3-22-02; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3410-02-P