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Proposed Rule

Irish Potatoes Grown in Colorado; Reinstatement of the Continuing Assessment Rate

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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Start Preamble

AGENCY:

Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.

ACTION:

Proposed rule.

SUMMARY:

This rule would reinstate the continuing assessment rate established for the Area No. 3 Colorado Potato Administrative Committee (Committee) for the 2003-2004 and subsequent fiscal periods at $0.03 per hundredweight of potatoes handled. The Committee locally administers the marketing order regulating the handling of potatoes grown in northern Colorado. The continuing assessment rate was suspended for the 2001-2002 and subsequent fiscal periods to bring the monetary reserve within the program limit of two fiscal periods' operating expenses. Authorization to assess potato handlers enables the Committee to incur expenses that are reasonable and necessary to administer the program. The fiscal period began July 1 and ends June 30. The assessment rate would remain in effect indefinitely unless modified, suspended, or terminated.

DATES:

Comments must be received by August 12, 2003.

ADDRESSES:

Interested persons are invited to submit written comments concerning this rule. Comments must be sent to the Docket Clerk, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue SW., STOP 0237, Washington, DC 20250-0237; Fax: (202) 720-8938, 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:

Teresa Hutchinson, Marketing Specialist, Northwest Marketing Field Office, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, 1220 SW Third Avenue, suite 385, Portland, Oregon 97204; telephone: (503) 326-2724, Fax: (503) 326-7440; 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) 720-8938.

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) 720-8938, or e-mail: Jay.Guerber@usda.gov.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

This rule is issued under Marketing Agreement No. 97 and Order No. 948, both as amended (7 CFR part 948), regulating the handling of potatoes grown in Colorado, 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 Department of Agriculture (USDA) is issuing this rule in conformance with Executive Order 12866.

This rule has been reviewed under Executive Order 12988, Civil Justice Reform. Under the marketing order now in effect, Colorado potato handlers are subject to assessments. Funds to administer the order are derived from such assessments. It is intended that the assessment rate as proposed herein would be applicable to all assessable potatoes beginning on July 1, 2003, and continue until amended, suspended, or terminated. 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 USDA a petition stating that the order, any provision of the order, or any Start Printed Page 44240obligation 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 would reinstate § 948.215 of the order's rules and regulations and establish a continuing assessment rate for the Committee for the 2003-2004 and subsequent fiscal periods at $0.03 per hundredweight of potatoes handled.

The Colorado potato marketing order provides authority for the Committee, with the approval of USDA, to formulate an annual budget of expenses and collect assessments from handlers to administer the program. The members of the Committee are producers and handlers of Colorado potatoes. They are familiar with the Committee's needs and with the costs for goods and services in their local area and are thus in a position to formulate an appropriate budget and assessment rate. The assessment rate is formulated and discussed in a public meeting. Thus, all directly affected persons have an opportunity to participate and provide input.

For the 2001-2002 and subsequent fiscal periods, the Committee recommended, and USDA approved, a suspension of the continuing assessment rate that would remain suspended until reinstated by USDA upon recommendation and information submitted by the Committee or other information available to USDA.

The Committee met on May 8, 2003, and unanimously recommended 2003-2004 expenditures of $19,737 and an assessment rate of $0.03 per hundredweight of potatoes. In comparison, last year's budgeted expenditures were also $19,737. For the 2001-2002 fiscal period, the Committee recommended suspending the continuing assessment rate to bring the monetary reserve within program limits of approximately two fiscal periods' operating expenses (§ 948.78). At that time, the reserve fund contained about $60,000. The Committee has been operating for the last two years by drawing income from its reserve. With a suspended assessment rate and a significant decrease in the number of potato producers and acreage in Area No. 3, the reserve has rapidly decreased to the current level of about $24,077. The Committee would like to maintain the reserve at approximately this level, thus reinstatement of the assessment rate at $0.03 per hundredweight is needed.

The major expenditures recommended by the Committee for the 2003-2004 fiscal period include $8,200 for salaries, $3,000 for rent expense, and $1,750 for office expenses. Budgeted expenses for these items in 2002-2003 were also $8,200, $3,000, and $1,750, respectively.

The assessment rate recommended by the Committee was derived by dividing anticipated expenses by expected shipments of Colorado potatoes. Colorado potato shipments for the year are estimated at 632,500 hundredweight which should provide $18,975 in assessment income. Income derived from handler assessments along with interest and rent income should be adequate to cover budgeted expenses. Funds in the reserve (estimated at $24,077 as of June 30, 2003) would be kept within the maximum permitted by the order (approximately two fiscal period's expenses; § 948.78).

The reinstated assessment rate would continue in effect indefinitely unless modified, suspended, or terminated by USDA upon recommendation and information submitted by the Committee or other available information.

Although this assessment rate would be in effect for an indefinite period, the Committee would continue to meet prior to or during each fiscal period to recommend a budget of expenses and consider recommendations for modification of the assessment rate. The dates and times of Committee meetings are available from the Committee or USDA. Committee meetings are open to the public and interested persons may express their views at these meetings. USDA would evaluate Committee recommendations and other available information to determine whether modification of the assessment rate is needed. Further rulemaking would be undertaken as necessary. The Committee's 2003-2004 budget and those for subsequent fiscal periods would be reviewed and, as appropriate, approved by USDA.

Initial 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 rule 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 the 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.

Based on Committee data, there are 12 producers, (9 of whom are also handlers) and 10 handlers (9 of whom are also producers) in the production area subject to regulation under the order. Small agricultural firms 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 whose annual receipts are less than $750,000.

Based on Committee data, the production of Area No. 3 Colorado potatoes for the 2001-2002 marketing year was 773,053 hundredweight. Based on National Agricultural Statistics Service data, the average producer price for Colorado summer potatoes for the 2001-2002 marketing year was $6.70 per hundredweight. The average annual producer revenue for the 12 Colorado Area No. 3 potato producers is therefore calculated to be approximately $431,621. Using Committee data regarding each individual handler's total shipments during the 2001-2002 marketing year and a Committee estimated average f.o.b. price during the 2001-2002 marketing year of $8.80 per hundredweight ($6.70 per hundredweight plus estimated packing and handling costs of $2.10 per hundredweight), all of the Colorado Area No. 3 potato handlers ship under $5,000,000 worth of potatoes. In view of the foregoing, it can be concluded that the majority of the Colorado Area No. 3 potato producers and handlers may be classified as small entities.

This rule would reinstate § 948.215 of the order's rules and regulations and establish a continuing assessment rate for the Committee, to be collected from handlers for the 2003-2004 and subsequent fiscal periods, at $0.03 per hundredweight of potatoes. The Committee recommended 2003-2004 expenditures of $19,727 and an assessment rate of $0.03 per hundredweight. The quantity of Area No. 3 Colorado potatoes for the 2003-2004 fiscal period is estimated at 632,500 hundredweight. Thus, the $0.03 rate should provide $18,975 in assessment income. This together with interest and rent income should be Start Printed Page 44241adequate to meet this fiscal period's budgeted expenses.

The major expenditures recommended by the Committee for the 2003-2004 fiscal period include $8,200 for salaries, $3,000 for rent expense, and $1,750 for office expenses. Budgeted expenses for these items in 2002-2003 were also $8,200, $3,000, and $1,750, respectively.

For the 2001-2002 fiscal period, the Committee recommended suspending the continuing assessment rate to bring the monetary reserve within program limits of approximately two fiscal periods' operating expenses (§ 948.78). At that time, the reserve fund contained about $60,000. The Committee has been operating for the last two years by drawing income from its reserve. With a suspended assessment rate and a significant decrease in the number of potato producers and acreage in Area No. 3, the reserve has rapidly decreased to the current level of about $24,000. The Committee would like to maintain the reserve at approximately this level, thus reinstatement of the assessment rate is needed.

The Committee discussed alternatives to this rule, including alternative expenditure levels. Lower assessment rates were considered, but not recommended because they would not generate the income necessary to administer the program with adequate reserves.

The assessment rate of $0.03 per hundredweight of assessable potatoes was determined by dividing the total recommended budget by the quantity of assessable potatoes, estimated at 632,500 hundredweight for the 2003-2004 fiscal period. This is approximately $1,402 above the anticipated expenses when combined with interest and rent income, which the Committee determined to be acceptable.

A review of historical information and preliminary information pertaining to the upcoming fiscal period indicates that the producer price for the 2003-2004 fiscal period could range between $5.10 and $6.70 per hundredweight of Colorado summer potatoes. Therefore, the estimated assessment revenue for the 2003-2004 fiscal period as a percentage of total producer revenue could range between 0.45 and 0.59 percent.

This action would increase the assessment obligation imposed on handlers. While assessments impose some additional costs on handlers, the costs are minimal and uniform on all handlers. Some of the additional costs may be passed on to producers. However, these costs would be offset by the benefits derived by the operation of the marketing order. In addition, the Committee's meeting was widely publicized throughout the Area No. 3 Colorado potato industry and all interested persons were invited to attend the meeting and participate in Committee deliberations on all issues. Like all Committee meetings, the May 8, 2003, 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.

This proposed rule would impose no additional reporting or recordkeeping requirements on either small or large Colorado Area No. 3 potato 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.

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

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.

A 15-day comment period is provided to allow interested persons to respond to this proposed rule. Fifteen days is deemed appropriate because: (1) The 2003-2004 fiscal period began on July 1, 2003, and the marketing order requires that the rate of assessment for each fiscal period apply to all assessable potatoes handled during such fiscal period; (2) the Committee needs to have sufficient funds to pay for expenses which are incurred on a continuous basis; and (3) handlers are aware of this action which was recommended by the Committee at a public meeting and is similar to other assessment rate actions issued in past years.

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List of Subjects in 7 CFR Part 948

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For the reasons set forth in the preamble, 7 CFR part 948 is proposed to be amended as follows:

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PART 948—IRISH POTATOES GROWN IN COLORADO

1. The authority citation for 7 CFR part 948 continues to read as follows:

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

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2. Section 948.215 is reinstated and revised to read as follows:

Assessment rate.

On and after July 1, 2003, an assessment rate of $0.03 per hundredweight is established for Colorado No. 3 potatoes.

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Dated: July 23, 2003.

Kenneth C. Clayton,

Acting Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service.

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[FR Doc. 03-19130 Filed 7-25-03; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3410-02-P