Florida’s green-skin avocados are beloved by their growers and a staple for communities that grew up eating them. But, the green-skins have more than 60 varieties with peak maturities ranging from May to December. Needing a way to ensure only mature avocados reached consumers, the Florida avocado industry turned to its federal marketing order.
The Avocado Administrative Committee, which manages the marketing order, collaborated with researchers to identify DNA specifications for each variety and helped federal inspection services adopt more thorough variety identification parameters in a program called the Avocado Variety Enforcement Program (AVEP). They also developed a database of size, shape and other sensory indicators of each avocado variety to evaluate when they reach the optimum maturity to ripen. Today, reports of immature green-skin avocados reaching the market have nearly ceased.
Industries across the fruit, vegetable and specialty crop landscape use federal marketing orders to boost the market appeal of their products. Marketing orders create industry-supported programs that pool resources to navigate marketing opportunities, solve challenges and succeed in a competitive marketplace. As it did for the Florida avocado industry, this type of self-regulation with government oversight from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) lends an extra level of credibility for consumers.
Marketing orders and agreements are requested by industry commodity group leaders and governed by boards, committees or councils made up of peer-nominated and USDA-approved growers and handlers. The programs are built to industry-driven specification. The Marketing Order and Agreement Division (MOAD), part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), helps each industry tackle its distinct challenges and continually customize its programs.
These industry-led programs are tailored to serve the specific production areas, which can range from local or countywide to national in scope. This ability to scale and adapt to production environments can be a great boon for niche commodities while providing cross-country collaboration and cohesion for larger commodities. These programs also provide the authority to collect and share market and crop data to help growers and handlers make the best possible decisions about production and marketing. This allows industries to better anticipate commodity and marketplace needs.
Marketing orders create industry-supported programs that pool resources to navigate marketing opportunities, solve challenges and succeed in a competitive marketplace.
Another aspect of marketing orders is the ability to provide a means of quality control to the industry. The ability to control the quality of its products creates cohesion and collaboration within industries and prevents inferior quality products from depressing the market for the whole crop. It also assures product integrity across trade channels, which helps minimize logistical and merchandising costs and increase consumer repurchase.
Producers and handlers are also undergoing changes to comply with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) mandatory Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations. Quality control provisions in a marketing order can be used to provide industry-wide food quality and handling regulations to meet some of these FSMA requirements. FDA views these programs favorably due to the strong oversight by USDA and the inherent compliance enforcement capabilities within marketing orders and agreements.
Marketing orders and agreements also authorize industry-wide production and marketing research programs, as well as promotion and advertising. These efforts are designed to expand markets and increase demand for the commodity while research can increase yields, address production challenges and develop new products.
Region-specific commodity industries have grown into recognizable products using these tools. For example, the Vidalia onion industry encompasses 80 growers and 40 handlers producing on about 12,000 acres in Georgia. Yet, the Vidalia onion brand commands a loyal consumer base nationwide. It has also funded research that has identified consumer preferences and solved production-related issues.
Marketing orders and agreements can adapt to changes across industries — be it the opening of a new foreign market or the presence of new regulations. As an example, the Almond Board of California worked with USDA over a five-year period to develop and launch a Pre-Export Checks Program to ensure almond exports meet the European Union’s stringent aflatoxin regulations. Self-regulation with government oversight lends an extra level of credibility for consumers.
“Marketing orders help produce businesses like yours succeed,” says Michael Durando, MOAD director. “More than a decade at USDA, I have had the privilege of helping large and small commodity groups work together to achieve industry-wide marketing results. If your industry is ready to pioneer innovative practices, reach global markets and new consumers, and enhance consumer trust and commodity quality, we can be of assistance.”
Businesses that would like to explore their options under marketing orders can contact MOAD.
Lillie Weiya Zeng is a marketing specialist in the Marketing Orders and Agreements Division of the Specialty Crops Program in the Agricultural Marketing Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.