Another big farming operation has gone to court to shut down a successful California marketing commission created by an overwhelming majority of producers.

This time it is Paramount Farms, the giant Kern County, Calif., based almond/citrus and pistachio producer.

It filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, challenging the power of the government-backed commission to assess fees used to market pistachios.

The company says the commission's marketing programs are “totally ineffective.”

“It is critical that, as an industry, we move beyond the CPC's commodity mindset and set our sights on the bigger goal of stimulating consumer demand and that is why we have taken these actions today,” said Chris Tuffli, Paramount Farms' communications director, in a written statement.

Pistachio production has increased dramatically over the last several years, reaching 300 million pounds in 2002 and 350 million pounds in 2004. Industry projections are for production to continue increasing. Most pistachio growers tell me it has been a very profitable crop with a bright future due to the promotional efforts of the commission.

A large contingent of pistachio producers under the organization called “United Pistachio Farmers” is fighting back in court and in the field.

To get Paramount attention some groups from this group have pulled pistachios away from Paramount and placed them with other processors. Paramount markets about 30 percent of the pistachios grown in California each year.

In a news release from United Pistachio Farmers, Larry Lowder of Madera, Calif., said growers are pulling product from Paramount to emphasize to let the giant ag corporation know “we're not happy with the direction they're taking in terms of the commission.

“We need a united front when we get into situations involving the government and product safety, pesticides and health issues. We must have an organization that can present on behalf of everyone.

We like what the California Pistachio Commission does for all farmers in this $437 million industry.”

In the last industry referendum, 96 percent of the ballots submitted supported the continuation of the commission formed in 1981.

It remains a mystery why big ag companies attempt to dismantle commissions and marketing orders. Their motives are they would rather use the dues assessed by marketing orders or commissions to promote their own brands. People like Paramount think they can do a better job with their dollars than a grower-run commission.

If the commission is not doing what you want it to do, change it. Certainly the handler of 30 percent of the state's pistachio crop has enough clout to do that rather than throwing out the baby with the wash in killing the commission.

Pistachio production has grown dramatically because demand has grown. It is that simple. However, in the world pistachio picture, California is very vulnerable.

Demand for California pistachios has grown certainly in part because Iranian pistachios have been basically banned from the U.S. With the current WTO-mindset to sell U.S. agriculture down the river with the U.S. providing the paddles, it would not be surprising to offer California pistachios as a sacrificial bribe to somehow defuse the volatile Iranian political situation. The demise of the pistachio commission would make it even more exposed.

Another reason to maintain the commission is that it has done a good job of establishing and growing markets for California pistachios.

And thirdly, and most important, an industry united is far better than an industry divided.

e-mail: hcline@prismb2b.com