The Power of Federal Marketing Orders

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.