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Proposed Rule

Pecans Grown in the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas; Reporting Requirements

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Start Preamble Start Printed Page 64028

AGENCY:

Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.

ACTION:

Proposed rule.

SUMMARY:

This proposed rule would implement a recommendation from the American Pecan Council (Council) to revise the reporting requirements prescribed under the Federal marketing order regulating the handling of pecans. This action would reduce the number of monthly reporting requirements, revise the requirements for inter-handler transfers, and make other conforming changes to the reporting requirements.

DATES:

Comments must be received by December 20, 2019.

ADDRESSES:

Interested persons are invited to submit written comments concerning this proposal. Comments must be sent to the Docket Clerk, Marketing Order and Agreement Division, Specialty Crops Program, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, STOP 0237, Washington, DC 20250-0237; Fax: (202) 720-8938; or internet: http://www.regulations.gov. All comments should reference the document number and the date and page number of this issue of the Federal Register and will be made 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 proposal 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.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Jennie M. Varela, Marketing Specialist, or Christian D. Nissen, Regional Director, Southeast Marketing Field Office, Marketing Order and Agreement Division, Specialty Crops Program, AMS, USDA; Telephone: (863) 324-3375, Fax: (863) 291-8614, or email: Jennie.Varela@usda.gov or Christian.Nissen@usda.gov.

Small businesses may request information on complying with this regulation by contacting Richard Lower, Marketing Order and Agreement Division, Specialty Crops Program, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, STOP 0237, Washington, DC 20250-0237; Telephone: (202) 720-2491, Fax: (202)720-8938, or email: Richard.Lower@usda.gov.

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

This action, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553, proposes an amendment to regulations issued to carry out a marketing order as defined in 7 CFR 900.2(j). This proposed rule is issued under Marketing Agreement and Order No. 986, (7 CFR part 986), regulating the handling of pecans grown in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. Part 986 (referred to as 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 Council locally administers the Order and is comprised of growers and handlers of pecans operating within the production area, and one accumulator and one public member.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is issuing this proposed rule in conformance with Executive Orders 13563 and 13175. This action falls within a category of regulatory actions that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) exempted from Executive Order 12866 review. Additionally, because this proposed rule does not meet the definition of a significant regulatory action it does not trigger the requirements contained in Executive Order 13771. See OMB's Memorandum titled “Interim Guidance Implementing Section 2 of the Executive Order of January 30, 2017 titled `Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs' ” (February 2, 2017).

This proposed rule has been reviewed under Executive Order 12988, Civil Justice Reform. This proposed rule is not intended to have retroactive effect.

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. A 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 proposed rule would revise the reporting requirements under the Order by reducing the number of monthly reports from six to three and revising the inter-handler report from a monthly to an annual report. This proposal also would make other conforming and clarifying changes to the reporting requirements. These changes would help reduce the regulatory burden on handlers by reducing reporting requirements. This proposal was unanimously recommended by the Council at its December 18, 2018, meeting.

Sections 986.75, 986.76, and 986.77 of the Order provide authority to the Council to require handlers to submit reports of inventory, merchantable pecans handled, and pecans received by handlers, respectively, on such dates as the Council may prescribe. Section 986.78 further provides, with the approval of the Secretary, authority for the Council to collect other reports and information from handlers needed to perform its duties.

Section 986.162 outlines the reporting requirements for inter-handler transfers, and § 986.175 establishes the requirements for the annual year-end inventory report. Section 986.177 prescribes the monthly reporting Start Printed Page 64029requirements for pecans received by handlers and for pecans purchased outside the United States. Section 986.178 includes requirements for a monthly report of shipments and inventory, a monthly report of exports, and a monthly report of pecans exported to Mexico for shelling to be returned to the United States.

During the promulgation of the Order, the data collection component was considered one of the most important aspects of the Order. Consequently, when discussing establishing reporting requirements, the Council wanted to ensure the data needed was being collected so valuable reports could be provided to the industry. The Council recommended the initial reporting requirements in 2017, which required handlers to submit six different reports each month and an annual report including pecans received, shipped, held in inventory, transferred, exported for sale or shelling, and purchased from outside the United States. To facilitate this information collection, the Council held handler information sessions throughout 2018 to explain the reporting process and gather feedback on which, if any, reports were difficult to complete.

At its December 18, 2018, meeting, the Council revisited the reporting requirements, reviewing feedback from the handler sessions. During the handler sessions, some industry members stated it was expensive and time consuming to submit accurate reports each month. Council staff also indicated that handlers were submitting incomplete and inaccurate reports, making it difficult to summarize the data and distribute accurate, timely statistical reports. It was also reported that Council staff were fielding calls daily regarding reporting requirements and the burden placed on handlers. The monthly inter-handler transfer report was also cited specifically as needing to be changed.

To address these concerns, the Council discussed ways to reduce the number of reporting requirements and to address the concerns surrounding the inter-handler transfer report. To accomplish this, the Council recommended combining four of the monthly reporting requirements into two, and converting the inter-handler transfer report from a monthly report into an annual report to reduce and simplify the reporting process. These changes would reduce the number of monthly reports from six to three.

The Council recommended combining the monthly report of pecans received and the report of shipments and inventory into one summary report. The report of pecans received currently includes handler information, the month covered by the report, the total weight and type of inshell pecans received, and the weight by variety of improved pecans received. The report also includes information regarding total assessments owed and total pounds reported to date. The report of shipments and inventory includes handler information, the month covered by the report, shipments of shelled and inshell pecans, current inventory, and pecans in inventory already committed for shipment.

In addition to combining the reports, the Council also recommended eliminating reporting pecans received by variety. Many handlers submit information on mixed loads, and found it burdensome, and in some cases impossible, to identify the variety of pecans received. Further, Council staff estimated over 76 percent of all pecans received cannot be identified by variety. Some varieties are also limited in use, so disclosing their tonnage would not be possible without potentially revealing proprietary information.

Handlers also expressed difficulty in understanding which reports applied to them and whether they needed to submit additional reports throughout the fiscal year. Consequently, the Council revised the summary report to include guidance that assists handlers in determining whether any other reports are necessary.

The Council agreed the information on pecans received could easily be combined with the report of shipments and inventory to create one monthly summary report. The Council believes this consolidated report would be easier for handlers to complete and still provide the necessary information.

Two other reports the Council agreed could be combined are the report of pecans purchased outside the United States and the report of pecans shipped to Mexico for shelling and then returned to the United States. The monthly report of pecans purchased outside the United States includes the name of the handler importing pecans, the month covered by the report, the date imported, country of origin, volume, and variety of pecans imported. The report of inshell pecans exported to Mexico for shelling includes handler information, the month covered by the report, dates of shipments, the total weight of inshell pecans shipped for shelling, and the weight of shelled pecans returned to the United States.

Initially, the Council recommended separate reports to ensure the import data collected was accurate. The industry was concerned import data available at the time was not accounting for domestic product sent to Mexico for processing then returned to the United States. Hence, it was difficult to estimate current supply. However, feedback from the industry indicated handlers could provide the necessary data to account for both foreign purchases and domestic product being shelled then returned from Mexico in a consolidated report rather than submitting two separate reports. Thus, the Council recommended combining these two reports.

The current inter-handler transfer report is submitted monthly. The report includes information on the month of transfer, type of pecans transferred, the volume transferred, the amount of assessments owed on the pecans transferred, handler information, and signatures of the two handlers involved. It also indicates if the transferring handler or receiving handler would be responsible for reporting and paying the assessments.

When established, the inter-handler transfer form was intended to relieve small handlers of the burden of reporting and submitting assessments by allowing them to transfer those requirements to a second handler purchasing the pecans. In practice, handlers have struggled to track the volume of all the shipments within a month, and often the forms submitted were incomplete or did not include both handler signatures.

Inter-handler transfers usually occur between the same two handlers throughout the year. Consequently, the Council recommended to simplify the process of meeting the inter-handler transfer requirements by establishing one report that would cover the transfers between the same two handlers for the whole fiscal year. Agreements between new handlers require submission of a new form with the Council.

The changes proposed by the Council would require handlers to submit a report following the first transfer of the fiscal year. By filing the Inter-Handler Transfer Form with the Council, the receiving and transferring handlers establish an agreement that remains in effect for the entire fiscal year. The receiving and transferring handlers need to complete their portions of the form and file it annually with the Council. It would also remove the requirement for the report to include the associated volume transferred. Instead, the volume associated with the inter-handler transfer would be reported by the receiving handler. Handlers will still maintain the option of designating who is responsible for paying the assessments on the pecans transferred, Start Printed Page 64030as currently authorized in 986.162(5). The Council expects the proposed change to provide some reporting relief to small handlers and create a more efficient method of tracking transferred pecans.

Along with these changes, the Council recommended conforming and clarifying adjustments to the remaining two reporting forms in §§ 986.175 and 986.178. These changes include renumbering the forms to remain in sequential order, removing past dates that no longer apply, and updating terms to be consistent with the Order. The Council believes these revised reporting requirements are necessary to maintain compliance with the assessment requirements of the Order and provide accurate reports to the industry on the production and total supply of pecans.

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 proposed 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 businesses subject to such actions in order that small businesses will not be unduly or disproportionately burdened. Marketing orders issued pursuant to the Act are unique in that they are brought about through group action of essentially small entities acting on their own behalf.

There are approximately 2,500 growers of pecans in the production area and approximately 250 handlers subject to the Order. Small agricultural growers are defined by the Small Business Administration as those having annual receipts less than $1,000,000, and small agricultural service firms are defined as those whose annual receipts are less than $30,000,000 (13 CFR 121.201).

According to information from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the average grower price for pecans during the 2016-2017 season was $2.59 per pound and 269 million pounds were utilized. The value for pecans that year totaled $697 million ($2.59 per pound multiplied by 269 million pounds). Taking the total value of production of pecans and dividing it by the total number of pecan growers provides an average return per grower of $278,684. Using the average price and utilization information, and assuming a normal distribution among growers, the majority of growers receive less than $1,000,000 annually.

Evidence presented at the formal rulemaking hearing held in 2015 indicated an average handler margin of $0.58 per pound. Adding this margin to the average grower price of $2.59 per pound of inshell pecans results in an estimated handler price of $3.17 per pound. With a total 2017 production of 269 million pounds, the total value of production in 2017 was $853 million ($3.17 per pound multiplied by 269 million pounds). Taking the total value of production of pecans and dividing it by the total number of pecan handlers provides an average return per handler of $3.4 million. Using this estimated price, the utilization volume, number of handlers, and assuming a normal distribution among handlers, the majority of handlers have annual receipts of less than $30,000,000. Thus, the majority of growers and handlers regulated by the Order may be classified as small entities.

This proposed rule would revise the reporting requirements in the Order by reducing the number of monthly reports from six to three and revising the inter-handler report from a monthly to an annual report. This proposal also would make other conforming changes to the reporting requirements. This proposed rule would revise §§ 986.162, 986.175, 986.177, and 986.178. The authority for these actions is provided in §§ 986.75, 986.76, 986.77, and 986.78 of the Order.

It is not anticipated that this proposed rule would impose additional costs on handlers or growers, regardless of size. Handlers should see a savings in time and labor cost due to the reduced number of forms submitted each month. The change to an annual inter-handler transfer report in place of a monthly report should provide additional time savings to both handlers involved in the transaction. Council members, including those representing small businesses, recommended these changes in order to ease the reporting and regulatory burden on industry handlers. The benefits of this rule are expected to be equally available to all pecan growers and handlers, regardless of their size.

The Council discussed other alternatives to this proposed action, including eliminating the inter-handler transfer option. However, removing the inter-handler transfer option from the Order could involve a lengthy process. Also, the inter-handler transfer was supported during promulgation of the marketing order as a way to ease reporting burdens on small businesses.

Another alternative considered was leaving the current reporting requirements unchanged. When the current requirements were established, the Council was eager to collect as much data as possible. Despite considerable industry outreach, many handlers had difficulty meeting the reporting requirements. The Council believed it must respond to the issues raised by handlers and address the extensive resources being used by its staff to help handlers comply with the reporting requirements in the Order. Therefore, the alternatives were rejected.

In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. Chapter 35), the Order's information collection requirements have been previously approved by OMB and assigned OMB No. 0581-0291 “Federal Marketing Order for Pecans.” This proposed rule would require changes to the Council's existing forms by combining forms and shifting one form from a monthly report to an annual report. However, the changes are minor, and the currently approved burden would decrease due to the proposed changes. The revised forms have been submitted to OMB for approval.

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 proposed rule.

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.

Further, the Council's meetings were widely publicized throughout the pecan industry and all interested persons were invited to attend the meetings and participate in Council deliberations on all issues. Additionally, the Council's meeting held on December 18, 2018, 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 proposed rule, including the regulatory and information collection impacts of this proposed 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/​rules-regulations/​moa/​small-businesses. Any questions about the compliance guide should be sent to Richard Lower at the previously-mentioned address in the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section.Start Printed Page 64031

A 30-day comment period is provided to allow interested persons to respond to this proposal. All written comments timely received will be considered before a final determination is made on this matter.

Start List of Subjects

List of Subjects in 7 CFR Part 986

  • Marketing agreements
  • Nuts
  • Pecans
  • Reporting and recordkeeping requirements
End List of Subjects

For the reasons set forth in the preamble, 7 CFR part 986 is proposed to be amended as follows:

Start Part

PART 986—PECANS GROWN IN THE STATES OF ALABAMA, ARKANSAS, ARIZONA, CALIFORNIA, FLORIDA, GEORGIA, KANSAS, LOUISIANA, MISSOURI, MISSISSIPPI, NORTH CAROLINA, NEW MEXICO, OKLAHOMA, SOUTH CAROLINA, AND TEXAS

End Part Start Amendment Part

1. The authority citation for 7 CFR part 986 continues to read as follows:

End Amendment Part Start Authority

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

End Authority Start Amendment Part

2. Revise § 986.162 to read as follows:

End Amendment Part
Inter-handler transfers.

(a) Inter-handler transfers of inshell pecans, pursuant to § 986.62, shall be reported to the Council on APC Form 4. Handlers shall file reports by the tenth day of the month following the first transfer between two handlers. Should the tenth day of the month fall on a weekend or holiday, reports are due by the first business day following the tenth day of the month. This report must be renewed each fiscal year. The report shall contain the following information:

(1) The fiscal year covered by the report;

(2) The names and signatures for both the transferring and receiving handler; and

(3) Handler assuming the reporting and assessment obligations on the pecans transferred.

(b) [Reserved].

Start Amendment Part

3. Amend § 986.175 by revising paragraph (a) introductory text to read as follows:

End Amendment Part
Handler inventory.

(a) Handlers shall submit to the Council a year-end inventory report following August 31 each fiscal year. Handlers shall file such reports by September 10. Should September 10 fall on a weekend, reports are due by the first business day following September 10. Such reports shall be reported to the Council on APC Form 5 and include:

* * * * *
Start Amendment Part

4. Amend § 986.177 by:

End Amendment Part Start Amendment Part

a. Revising paragraph (a) introductory text, and paragraphs (a)(3) and (4);

End Amendment Part Start Amendment Part

b. Adding paragraphs (a)(6) through (a)(10);

End Amendment Part Start Amendment Part

c. Revising paragraph (b) introductory text; and

End Amendment Part Start Amendment Part

d. Adding paragraphs (b)(6) through (b)(9).

End Amendment Part

The additions and revisions read as follows:

Reports of pecans received by handlers.

(a) Summary report. Handlers shall submit to the Council, by the tenth day of the month, a summary report of inshell domestic pecans received, and all shipments, inventory, and committed inventory for pecans following the month of activity. Should the tenth day of the month fall on a weekend or holiday, reports are due by the first business day following the tenth day of the month. The report shall be submitted to the Council on APC Form 1 and contain the following information:

* * * * *

(3) The total weight and type of inshell pecans received during the reporting period;

(4) The total weight and type of inshell pecans received year to date; and,

* * * * *

(6) The weight of all shipments of pecans, inshell and shelled, and inter-handler transfers shipped and received during the reporting period;

(7) The weight of all shipments of pecans, inshell and shelled, and inter-handler transfers shipped and received in the previous month and year to date;

(8) Total inventory held by handler;

(9) All the inventory committed (pecans not shipped, but sold or otherwise obligated) whether for domestic sale or export; and,

(10) The weight of all shelled or inshell pecans under contract for purchase from other handlers.

(b) Pecans purchased outside the United States and inshell pecans exported to Mexico for shelling and returned to the United States as shelled meats. Handlers shall submit to the Council, by the tenth day of the month following the month of activity, a summary report of shelled and inshell pecans imported during the preceding month. Should the tenth day of the month fall on a weekend or holiday, reports are due by the first business day following the tenth day of the month. The report shall be submitted to the Council on APC Form 2 and contain the following information:

* * * * *

(6) The weight of inshell pecans exported to Mexico for shelling;

(7) The date shelled pecans returned to the United States after shelling in Mexico;

(8) The weight of shelled pecans returned to the United States after shelling in Mexico; and

(9) The total weight of inshell pecans exported to Mexico for shelling, and shelled pecans returned from Mexico, year to date.

Start Amendment Part

5. Amend § 986.178 by revising paragraph (a) to read as follows:

End Amendment Part
Other reports.

(a) Exports by country of destination. Handlers shall submit to the Council, by the tenth day of the month following the month of shipment, a report of exports. Should the tenth day of the month fall on a weekend or holiday, reports are due by the first business day following the tenth day of the month. The report shall be reported to the Council on APC Form 3 and contain the following information:

(1) The name and address of the handler;

(2) The month covered by the report;

(3) The total weight of pecans shipped for export, whether inshell, shelled, or substandard during the reporting period;

(4) The total weight of pecans shipped for export, whether inshell, shelled, or substandard during the previous period and year to date; and,

(5) The destination(s) of such exports.

* * * * *
Start Signature

Dated: November 14, 2019.

Bruce Summers,

Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service.

End Signature End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. 2019-25083 Filed 11-19-19; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3410-02-P