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Proposed Rule

Watermelon Research and Promotion Plan; Assessment Increase

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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 proposes to amend the Watermelon Research and Promotion Plan (Plan) to increase the assessment rate on producers, handlers, and importers of watermelons from four cents to six cents per hundredweight. Domestic producers and handlers would pay three cents per hundredweight each and importers would pay six cents per hundredweight. The increase is provided for under the Plan which is authorized by the Watermelon Research and Promotion Act (Act). The National Watermelon Promotion Board (Board), which administers the Plan, recommended this action to sustain and expand their promotional, research, and communications programs.

DATES:

Comments must be received by July 9, 2007.

ADDRESSES:

Interested persons are invited to submit written comments on the internet at: http://www.regulations.gov or to the Research and Promotion Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), U.S. Department of Agriculture, Room 0634-S, Stop 0244, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20250-0244; fax: (202) 205-2800. All comments should reference the docket number and the date and page number of this issue of the Federal Register and will be made available for public inspection in the above office during regular business hours or can be viewed at http://www.regulations.gov.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Jeanette Palmer, Marketing Specialist, Research and Promotion Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW., Room 0634, Stop 0244, Washington, DC 20250-0244; telephone: (202) 720-9915; or fax: (202) 205-2800; or e-mail: Jeanette.Palmer@usda.gov.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

This rule is issued under the Watermelon Research and Promotion Plan [7 CFR part 1210]. The Plan is authorized under the Watermelon Research and Promotion Act [7 U.S.C. 4901-4916].

Executive Order 12866

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has waived the review process required by Executive Order 12866 for this action.

Executive Order 12988

This rule has been reviewed under Executive Order 12988, Civil Justice Reform. The rule is not intended to have retroactive effect and will not affect or preempt any other State or Federal law authorizing promotion or research relating to an agricultural commodity.

The Act allows producers, handlers, and importers subject to the Plan to file a written petition with the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretary) if they believe that the Plan, any provision of the Plan, or any obligation imposed in connection with the Plan, is not in accordance with the law. In any petition, the person may request a modification of the Plan or an exemption from the Plan. The petitioner will have the opportunity for a hearing on the petition. Afterwards, an Start Printed Page 26006Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will issue a decision. If the petitioner disagrees with the ALJ's ruling, the petitioner has 30 days to appeal to the Judicial Officer, who will issue a ruling on behalf of the Secretary. If the petitioner disagrees with the Secretary's ruling, the petitioner may file, within 20 days, an appeal in the U.S. District Court for the district where the petitioner resides or conducts business.

Initial Regulatory Flexibility Act and Paperwork Reduction Act

In accordance with the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) [5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.], the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has considered the economic impact of this action on the small producers, handlers, and importers that would be affected by this rule. The purpose of the RFA is to fit regulatory action to scale on businesses subject to such action so that small businesses will not be disproportionately burdened.

The Small Business Administration defines, in 13 CFR part 121, small agricultural producers as those having annual receipts of no more than $750,000 and small agricultural service firms (handlers and importers) as those having annual receipts of no more than $6.5 million. Under these definitions, the majority of the producers, handlers, and importers that would be affected by this rule would be considered small entities. Producers of less than 10 acres of watermelons are exempt from this program. Importers of less than 150,000 pounds of watermelons per year are also exempt.

According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board (Board), there are approximately 1,301 producers, 442 first handlers, and 346 importers who are subject to the provisions of the Plan.

Under the current Plan, domestic producers of 10 acres or more and handlers of watermelon each pay a mandatory assessment rate of two cents per hundredweight, and importers of more than 150,000 pounds of watermelon per year pay an assessment of four cents per hundredweight. Assessments under the program are used by the Board to finance promotion, research, and educational programs designed to increase consumer demand for watermelons in the United States and international markets. The assessments at the current four cents per hundredweight generate about $1.5 million in annual revenues. The two cents per hundredweight assessment rate each for domestic watermelon producer and handler was established in April 1990. The four cents per hundredweight assessment rate on imported watermelons became effective when the Plan was amended in February 1995 to authorize the collection of assessments on importers. The Plan is administered by the Board under U.S. Department of Agriculture supervision.

According to the Board, additional revenue is required in order to sustain and expand the promotional, research, and communications programs. The Board approved the proposed assessment rate increase at its February 24, 2007, meeting. This proposed increase is consistent with section 1647(f) of the Act that permits changes in the assessment rate through notice and comment procedures. Section 1210.341(b) of the Plan states that assessment rates shall be fixed by the Secretary in accordance with section 1647(f) of the Act. Section 1210.515(a) of the Plan states that an assessment of two cents per hundredweight shall be levied on all watermelons produced and on all watermelons first handled for consumption as human food. It also states that an assessment of four cents per hundredweight shall be levied on watermelons imported into the U.S. for consumption as human food. Further, not more than one assessment on a producer, handler, or importer may be collected on any lot of watermelons.

The Board conducted an inflation analysis based on the current assessment rate of four cents per hundredweight starting from 1995. The analysis results show that, adjusted for inflation, the 1995 four cents per hundredweight total assessment is equivalent to three cents per hundredweight for the current program year. On an inflation adjusted basis, using 1995 as the base year, the watermelon industry's program to support research and promotion activities has lost 25 percent of its effective buying power. This erosion in buying power has had a significant impact on the industry's ability to compete for market share. The cost of media services, research programs, promotional opportunities, as well as general administrative costs and fees paid to USDA have continually risen. Assessments collected have not kept pace with these increasing costs. Movement and sales of watermelon continue to grow, however, that growth has not outpaced the negative effects of inflation.

With the proposed increased assessment, the financial commitment of the U.S. watermelon industry for generic research and promotion activity would increase 50 percent in current dollars. For example, if we apply the proposed assessment increase to the 2005-2006 crop year, in which collections totaled $1,583,983 on 3,959,957,500 pounds of watermelons, the increase in assessments collected would have been approximately $791,991. The Board plans to use the additional funds to expand promotional activities, and to increase the Board's reserve fund over a two-year period to provide for adequate cash flow. By changing the assessment rate to six cents per hundredweight, the Board stated that it would maintain its research and promotional activities, expand its programs, and sustain marketing activities in the future with rising cost expenditures.

The Board estimates the two cents per hundredweight increase in assessments would increase the cost to watermelon producers from $16.00 per truckload of watermelons to $24.00 per truckload of watermelons. At Freight on Board (FOB) prices of about $0.14 per pound of watermelons, this amounts to a total assessment of 0.00429 percent of the value of a truck load of watermelons. This is based on a 40,000 pound net weight of watermelons per truck load.

The Board considered three alternatives prior to the recommendation to increase the assessment rate. First, the Board performed several cost saving measures as an alternative to increasing the assessment rate which included moving to less expensive offices, changes in the staff health insurance program, change in independent auditors, and the elimination of one professional staff position. The results of the savings were over $120,000 which equals approximately 10 percent of the Board's domestic revenue for the 2005-2006 crop year.

The second alternative considered by the Board was a prior attempt to increase additional revenue by expanding the handler base for watermelons. A referendum was conducted by AMS between December 2001 and January 2002. The proposed amendment to the Plan requested the watermelon industry to expand the program to cover all handlers of watermelons which would have included wholesalers, persons who arrange the sale or transfer of watermelon (such as brokers) and fresh cut processors. The amendment was not approved in referendum. Therefore, the Plan continues to cover domestic producers of 10 acres or more, first handlers, and importers of 150,000 pounds of watermelon annually.

The final alternative considered by the Board was the current assessment rate proposal. The Board discussed increasing the assessment rate by one Start Printed Page 26007cent per hundredweight for each producer of 10 acres or more, handler, and importer of 150,000 pounds of watermelon annually. The one cent proposed increase was rejected by the Board on the basis that an increase of this size would only return the program to the 1995 adjusted funding level. In order to sustain and expand the promotional, research, and communication programs, the Board decided to propose an increase assessment rate of two cents per hundredweight for a total assessment rate of six cents per hundredweight (three cents per hundredweight paid by producers, three cents per hundredweight paid by handlers, and six cents per hundredweight paid by importers of watermelons).

This rule does not impose additional recordkeeping requirements on first handlers, producers, or importers of watermelons. Producers of fewer than 10 acres of watermelon and importers of less than 150,000 pounds of watermelon annually are exempt.

There are no Federal rules that duplicate, overlap, or conflict with this rule.

In accordance with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regulation 5 CFR part 1320] which implements the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 [44 U.S.C. Chapter 35], the information collection and recordkeeping requirements that are imposed by the Plan have been approved previously under OMB control number 0581-0093. This rule does not result in a change to the information collection and recordkeeping requirements previously approved.

We have performed this Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis regarding the impact of this proposed amendment to the Plan on small entities, and we invite comments concerning potential effects of this amendment on small businesses.

Background

Under the Plan, the Board administers a nationally coordinated program of research, development, advertising, and promotion designed to strengthen the position of watermelons in the marketplace, and to establish, maintain, and expand markets for watermelons. This program is financed by assessments on producers growing 10 acres or more of watermelons, handlers of watermelons, and importers of 150,000 or more pounds of watermelons per year. The Plan specifies that handlers are responsible for collecting and submitting both the producer and handler assessments to the Board, reporting their handling of watermelons, and maintaining records necessary to verify their reporting(s). Importers are responsible for payment of assessments to the Board on watermelons imported into the United States through the U.S. Customs Service and Border Protection.

This rule proposes to increase the assessment rate by one cent per hundredweight for producers and handlers each, and by two cents per hundredweight for importers. Currently, the assessment rate is two cents per hundredweight levied on watermelons produced and two cents per hundredweight on watermelons handled within the 50 States of the United States and four cents per hundredweight on imports of watermelon. In order to sustain and expand the promotion, research, and communications programs at present levels, the Board contends that additional revenue is required. The proposed two cents per hundredweight assessment rate increase is estimated to generate $750,000-$800,000 in new revenue, depending upon production levels. For the 2005-2006 crop year, total production was 3,959,957,500 pounds of watermelons resulting in $1,583,983 in assessment collections. Based on assessments collected for that crop year, about 75 percent of this production total was from domestic assessments, with the remainder from imports. The Board states that the proposed assessment rate increase, would enable it to expand media services, educational programs, research programs, and establish, maintain, and expand domestic and foreign markets for watermelons. Some of the additional revenue, the Board states, would be used to increase the reserve fund over a two-year period to provide for adequate cash flow. Also, it is estimated that the Board will receive $2.3 million in total assessments with a six cents per hundredweight assessment rate on watermelons.

In addition, the Board, whose members represent all watermelon producing states as well as importers, voted to propose the assessment rate increase at its February 24, 2007, meeting which was open to the public like all other meetings. The vote to recommend the assessment increase was 22 in favor and 1 against of the Board members present at the meeting. In the case of the one dissenting vote, the producer member stated that he opposed the two cents per hundredweight increase; however, he would support an increase of one cent per hundredweight. The proposed assessment rate of one cent per hundredweight was rejected by the Board on the basis that such an increase would only return the program to its 1995 inflation adjusted funding level. According to the Board, the one cent per hundredweight would not allow the program to expand its activities.

This rule would amend the rules and regulations issued under the Plan. This rule would increase the assessment rate by two cents per hundredweight. The rate would increase from four cents to six cents per hundredweight. Producers of 10 acres or more and handlers of watermelons will each pay three cents per hundredweight and importers of 150,000 pounds or more of watermelons annually will pay six cents per hundredweight. This proposed increase is consistent with section 1647(f) of the Act that permits changes in the assessment rate through notice and comment procedures. Section 1210.341(b) of the Plan states that assessment rates shall be fixed by the Secretary in accordance with section 1647(f) of the Act. Further, not more than one assessment on a producer, handler, or importer may be collected on any lot of watermelons. The Board is recommending the proposed assessment rate increase based on continued inflation and rising cost expenditures since the current assessment rate places budget constraints on promotional, research, and communications programs and would result in reducing the programs in the future. Accordingly, section 1210.515(a) of the Plan would be revised.

A 60-day comment period is provided to allow interested persons to respond to this proposal. All written comments received in response to this rule by the date specified would be considered prior to finalizing this action.

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List of Subjects in 7 CFR Part 1210

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For the reasons set forth in the preamble, Part 1210, Chapter XI of Title 7 is proposed to be amended as follows:

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PART 1210—WATERMELON RESEARCH AND PROMOTION PLAN

1. The authority citation for 7 CFR part 1210 continues to read as follows:

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Authority: 7 U.S.C. 4901-4916.

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2. Section 1210.515 (a) is revised to read as follows:

Levy of assessments.

(a) An assessment of three cents per hundredweight shall be levied on all watermelons produced for ultimate Start Printed Page 26008consumption as human food, and an assessment of three cents per hundredweight shall be levied on all watermelons first handled for ultimate consumption as human food. An assessment of six cents per hundredweight shall be levied on all watermelons imported into the United States for ultimate consumption as human food at the time of entry in the United States.

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Dated: May 2, 2007.

Lloyd C. Day,

Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service.

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[FR Doc. E7-8726 Filed 5-7-07; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3410-02-P