Los Angeles billionaire Stewart Resnick and his Paramount Farming Co. in Kern County, Calif. have killed the 26-year old California Pistachio Commission.

A recent referendum to renew the commission attracted more than 60 percent of the state’s pistachio producers. Two-thirds voted to continue the commission. However, those producers represented only 41 percent of the voted volume and the commission is killed. The law establishing commissions in California requires that those approving extension of a commission represent a majority of the crop.

Paramount produces 30 percent of the state’s pistachio crop and essentially killed the commission

Resnick also owns the Franklin Mint, and Teleflora, a flowers-by-wire service.

“The CPC has served the industry extremely well for the past 26 years and I know that many of my fellow growers share my profound disappointment that we could not resolve our differences that have ultimately resulted in this vote that terminates the CPC,” stated CPC Chairman Kevin Herman of Madera, Calif., “I have always been a strong believer in the democratic system and therefore we must accept the fact that the voice of the growers has been heard.”

Paramount filed suit against the CPC in October 2005 and since that time the CPC has been embroiled in litigation while attempting to negotiate a settlement resolution with the plaintiffs in the case. California Department of Food and Agriculture oversees the CPC and had conducted a public hearing last December to allow the industry to express opinions as to potential structural and governance changes for the CPC that was enacted by the state legislature in 1981.

Referendum ballots were mailed to all assessed growers on Jan. 25 and included options to restructure the CPC for the purpose of resolving the current litigation.

“This has been a very difficult time for the industry and it is my sincere hope that the growers can move beyond their disappointment and start working together for the good of the industry,” stated Karen Reinecke, CPC President.

California produced its first commercial crop in 1976. The state is the largest producer of pistachios in the U.S. and the second largest in the world. A total of 734 growers farm 112,000 bearing acres with 40,000 nonbearing acres. The 2006 harvest produced 237 million pounds; the record to date was 347 million pounds produced in 2004.

Paramount said in its lawsuit that the commission’s marketing programs are “totally ineffective” yet pistachios have emerged as one of the most profitable and fastest growing segments of mainstream California agriculture over the past decade.

"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 issued when the lawsuit was filed.

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

To get Paramount attention some groups from this group pulled pistachios away from Paramount and placed them with other processors. It did no good.

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

Paramount farms about 30,000 acres of almonds, 25,000 acres of pistachios and 6,000 acres of pomegranates in the southern San Joaquin Valley,

Paramount Farming recently purchased 15,000 acres of row-crop land in Madera County from Newhall Land Co., that likely will planted to almonds, pistachios or pomegranates.

The Resnicks purchased Paramount Citrus in the 1980s. They own 20,000 acres of their own citrus and farm another 10,000 acres through their subsidiary S&J Farm Management. Paramount Citrus is the largest citrus grower in California and supplies 20 percent of Sunkist’s citrus.

email: hcline@farmpress.com