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Rule

Tomatoes Grown in Florida; Decreased 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:

Interim final rule.

SUMMARY:

This rule decreases the assessment rate established for the Florida Tomato Committee (Committee) for the 2009-10 and subsequent fiscal periods from $0.0375 to $0.0275 per 25-pound carton of tomatoes handled. The Committee locally administers the marketing order, which regulates the handling of tomatoes grown in Florida. Assessments upon Florida tomato handlers are used by the Committee to fund reasonable and necessary expenses of the program. The fiscal period begins August 1 and ends July 31. The assessment rate will remain in effect indefinitely unless modified, suspended, or terminated.

DATES:

Effective November 5, 2009. Comments received by January 4, 2010, 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, 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 Internet: http://www.regulations.gov. Comments should reference the document 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.regulations.gov. All comments submitted in response to this Start Printed Page 57058rule 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 on the Internet at the address provided above.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Doris Jamieson, Marketing Specialist or Christian D. Nissen, Regional Manager, Southeast Marketing Field Office, Marketing Order Administration Branch, Fruit and Vegetable Programs, AMS, USDA; Telephone: (863) 324-3375, Fax: (863) 325-8793, or E-mail: Doris.Jamieson@ams.usda.gov or Christian.Nissen@ams.usda.gov.

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@ams.usda.gov.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

This rule is issued under Marketing Agreement No. 125 and Order No. 966, both as amended (7 CFR part 966), regulating the handling of tomatoes grown in Florida, 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, Florida tomato handlers are subject to assessments. Funds to administer the order are derived from such assessments. It is intended that the assessment rate as issued herein will be applicable to all assessable Florida tomatoes beginning August 1, 2009, and continue until amended, suspended, or terminated.

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 decreases the assessment rate established for the Committee for the 2009-10 and subsequent fiscal periods from $0.0375 per 25-pound carton to $0.0275 per 25-pound carton of Florida tomatoes.

The Florida tomato 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 of Florida tomatoes. 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 2008-09 and subsequent fiscal periods, the Committee recommended, and USDA approved, an assessment rate that would continue in effect from fiscal period to fiscal period unless modified, suspended, or terminated by USDA upon recommendation and information submitted by the Committee or other information available to USDA.

The Committee met on August 20, 2009, and unanimously recommended 2009-10 expenditures of $1,910,500 and an assessment rate of $0.0275 per 25-pound carton of tomatoes. In comparison, last year's budgeted expenditures were $2,438,200. The assessment rate of $0.0275 is $0.01 lower than the rate currently in effect. The Committee recommended the decrease in assessment rate due to a reduction in expenditures for education and promotion.

The major expenditures recommended by the Committee for the 2009-10 year include $700,000 for education and promotion, $475,500 for salaries, $320,000 for research, and $70,000 for employee retirement. Budgeted expenses for these items in 2008-09 were $1,200,000, $505,500, $320,000, and $77,000, respectively.

The assessment rate recommended by the Committee was derived by dividing anticipated expenses by expected shipments of Florida tomatoes. Tomato shipments for the year are estimated at 50 million cartons, which should provide $1,375,000 in assessment income. Income derived from handler assessments, along with interest income and income from the USDA Market Access Program (MAP), will be adequate to cover budgeted expenses. Funds in the reserve (currently $502,000) will be kept within the maximum permitted by the order of not to exceed one fiscal period's expenses as stated in § 966.44.

The assessment rate established in this rule will 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 is effective for an indefinite period, the Committee will 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 will evaluate Committee recommendations and other available information to determine whether modification of the assessment rate is needed. Further rulemaking will be undertaken as necessary. The Committee's 2009-10 budget and those for subsequent fiscal periods will be reviewed and, as appropriate, approved by USDA.

Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

Pursuant to requirements set forth in the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) (5 U.S.C. 601-612), 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.

There are approximately 100 producers of tomatoes in the production area and approximately 70 handlers subject to regulation under the marketing order. Small agricultural producers are defined by the Small Business Administration (SBA) as those having annual receipts less than $750,000, and small agricultural service firms are defined as those whose annual Start Printed Page 57059receipts are less than $7,000,000 (13 CFR 121.201).

Based on industry and Committee data, the average annual price for fresh Florida tomatoes during the 2008-09 season was approximately $8.13 per 25-pound carton, and total fresh shipments for the 2008-09 season were 47,054,853 25-pound cartons of tomatoes. Committee data indicates 10 percent of the handlers handle 56 percent of the total volume shipped outside the regulated area. Based on the average price and the other data available, a majority of handlers could be considered small businesses under SBA's definition. In addition, based on production data, grower prices as reported by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the total number of Florida tomato growers, the average annual grower revenue is below $750,000. Thus, the majority of handlers and producers of Florida tomatoes may be classified as small entities.

This rule decreases the assessment rate established for the Committee and collected from handlers for the 2009-10 and subsequent fiscal periods from $0.0375 to $0.0275 per 25-pount carton of tomatoes. The Committee unanimously recommended 2009-10 expenditures of $1,910,500 and an assessment rate of $0.0275 per 25-pound container. The assessment rate of $0.0275 is $0.01 lower than the 2008-09 rate. The quantity of assessable tomatoes for the 2009-10 season is estimated at 50 million. Thus, the $0.0275 rate should provide $1,375,000 in assessment income. Income derived from handler assessment income, along with interest income and funds from the MAP program will be adequate to cover budgeted expenses.

The major expenditures recommended by the Committee for the 2009-10 year include $700,000 for education and promotion, $475,500 for salaries, $320,000 for research, and $70,000 for employee retirement. Budgeted expenses for these items in 2008-09 were $1,200,000, $505,500, $320,000, and $77,000, respectively.

The Committee recommended the decrease in assessment rate due to a reduction in expenditures for education and promotion.

The Committee reviewed and unanimously recommended 2009-10 expenditures of $1,910,500 which included decreases in education and promotion, salaries, employee retirement, and payroll expenses. Prior to arriving at this budget, the Committee considered information from various sources, such as the Committee's Finance, Research, and Education and Promotion Subcommittees. Alternative expenditure levels were discussed by these groups, based upon the relative value of various projects to the tomato industry. The assessment rate of $0.0275 per 25-pound carton of assessable tomatoes was then determined by dividing the total recommended budget by the quantity of assessable commodity, estimated at 50 million 25-pound cartons for the 2009-10 season. Considering income from assessments, interest, and income from other sources, total income will be approximately $41,500 above the anticipated expenses, which the Committee determined to be acceptable.

A review of historical information and preliminary information pertaining to the upcoming fiscal period indicates that the grower price for the 2009-10 season could range between $3.89 and $19.01 per 25-pound carton of tomatoes. Therefore, the estimated assessment revenue for the 2009-10 season as a percentage of total grower revenue could range between .1 and .7 percent.

This action decreases the assessment obligation imposed on handlers. Assessments are applied uniformly on all handlers, and some of the costs may be passed on to producers. However, decreasing the assessment rate reduces the burden on handlers, and may reduce the burden on producers. In addition, the Committee's meeting was widely publicized throughout the Florida tomato 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 20, 2009, 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 comments on this interim final rule, including the regulatory and informational impacts of this action on small businesses.

This action imposes no additional reporting or recordkeeping requirements on either small or large Florida tomato 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.

AMS is committed to complying with the E-Government Act, to promote the use of the Internet and other information technologies to provide increased opportunities for citizen access to Government information and services, and for other purposes.

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/​AMSv1.0/​ams.fetchTemplateData.do?​template=​TemplateN&​page=​MarketingOrdersSmallBusinessGuide. 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 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 2009-10 fiscal year began on August 1, 2009, and the marketing order requires that the rate of assessment for each fiscal period apply to all assessable tomatoes handled during such fiscal period; (2) this action decreases the assessment rate for Florida tomatoes beginning with the 2009-10 fiscal period; (3) handlers are aware of this action which was unanimously recommended by the Committee at a public meeting and is similar to other assessment rate actions issued in past years; and (4) 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 966

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For the reasons set forth in the preamble,

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PART 966—TOMATOES GROWN IN FLORIDA

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1. The authority citation for

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

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2. Section 966.234 is revised to read as follows:

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Assessment rate.

On and after August 1, 2009, an assessment rate of $0.0275 per 25-pound Start Printed Page 57060carton is established for Florida tomatoes.

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Dated: October 27, 2009.

Rayne Pegg,

Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service.

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[FR Doc. E9-26462 Filed 11-3-09; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3410-02-P