EVOLUTION OF WBC CHAIRS
Fall 2000-December 2020
EVOLUTION OF EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS
Prior to 1987
November 2014-March 2019
David Bell -- Jan. 2021 to Present
Roy Allen -- Fall 2000 to Dec. 2020
Gary Willey -- Fall 1998 to Fall 2000
Sanford Kelley -- Fall 1997 to Fall 1998
Simeon Allen -- Jan. 2021 to Present
Edward Hennessey -- Nov. 2017 to Fall 2020
Ragnar Kamp -- Fall 2013 to Fall 2017
Jerel (Kim) Higgins -- Fall 2006 to Fall 2013
Delmont Merrill -- Fall 2000 to Fall 2006
Roy Allen -- Fall 1998 to Fall 2000
Gary Willey -- Fall 1997 to Fall 1998'
The Origin of the Blueberry Tax and the Advisory Committee
A tax on wild blueberries grown or processed in Maine was first established in 1945 when a coalition of wild blueberry farmers asked the 92nd Maine State Legislature to establish a tax on wild blueberry production. The legislature agreed and the new law went into effect on July 21, 1945. An Advisory committee was established to allocate the proceeds and carry out the purposes above. The Advisory committee at the time was composed of 7 industry members, all appointed by the president of the University of Maine. In 1971 the processors determined that additional funds were needed not only for research and extension, but also for promotion. The legislature once again agreed and passed “An Act Levying a Tax for Research Promotion of Maine Wild Blueberries” and raised the tax rate to from 1 ¼ to 2 ¼ mills [0.225 cents] per pound with the additional 0.1 cent coming from the processors. The first use of these new promotional dollars was an allocation to the North American Blueberry Council (NABC).
Just a few years later, in 1977, the Legislature sought to clarify the organization of these bodies and of the tax. The revised law taxed wild blueberry sellers (farmers selling to a processor or shipper) at 2 mills (0.2 cents) per pound, as collected at the point of sale by the processor or shipper. Processors and shippers transferred that tax to the state and added another 1 mill per pound (0.1 cents) as their own portion of the tax for a total of 3 mills per pound of wild blueberries grown and processed in Maine with 2/3 of the tax paid by processors and 1/3 by growers.
The same Act in 1977 formally established the Maine Blueberry Commission, previously organized in 1971 as the Blueberry Industry Advisory Board and its organization was very similar to the Commission of today. At the time, the Commission was comprised of 5 members, all appointed by the Commissioner of Agriculture and members “…shall have an interest in and general knowledge of the blueberry industry as a whole and shall be a processor, shipper or grower.” The Commission was given the responsibility to allocate a portion of the tax to the “University of Maine Blueberry Advisory Committee,” and more generally allocate the tax proceeds for the purpose of “…research, extension and promotion of Maine wild blueberries…”
Restructuring of Commission
In 1982, the industry worked with the legislature and restructured the Commission to:
increase funding for market development
maintain a consistent level of funding for University of Maine wild blueberry research and extension
increase allocation flexibility to allow for greater promotional spends in bumper crop years
employ an Executive Director to develop a promotion program in conjunction with NABC and the Wild Blueberry Association of North America (WBANA), maintain an office and financial records, liaison with the University of Maine, represent the industry to state agencies and the public, and provide better communications between members of the industry.
Minimize administrative costs to maximize use of tax funds for promotion and research
Provide representative of independent growers on the Commission who could participate in allocating funds and determining programs
In 1984, changes increased the tax to 1 cent per pound, with half paid by processors and half by growers. It consolidated administration of the tax entirely under the Commission, for the first time making the Advisory Committee a standing committee of the Commission.
Under the 1984 statute, 25% of the tax was earmarked for promotion and market development, 30% (but no more than $85,000) was dedicated for University of Maine research and extension, and administrative expenses were capped at 15%. The remaining 30% was allocated at the Commission’s discretion.
Importantly, 3 grower representatives were added to Commission membership, making the composition of the Commission 5 processors and 3 growers.
The Wild Blueberry Association of North America (WBANA) was formed in 1981 to provide a focus on promotion, provide a vehicle for more grower and processor volunteer contributions to industry promotion leadership. WBANA could also better protect promotional strategies.
Research and Extension
Over 15 years from the late 1990’s the Commission leveraged $85,000 into an approximately $2 million annual UMaine research and education program.
In the mid-1990s, the “Wild” brand identity package was being rolled out to the ingredient business through trade shows, collateral material etc. (There was no business internet.)
WBC was a founding force at the Legislature in the late 1990s to form the Board of Agriculture (BOA) to advise the Chancellor and University of Maine President on research and extension priorities and as a mechanism to ensure support of Ag programs. Some Ag groups were against the Board’s formation.
Initially three industry members were appointed to the board, have maintained two appointees over the last 22 years.
In the mid-1990s the Maine Wild Blueberry business recognized that it needed to become more involved with public policy as governmental laws and rules were negatively impacting the ability to cost effectively grow, process, market, and sell wild blueberries. The Commission reorganized itself through legislation as a public instrumentality of the state to protect the Wild Blueberry tax funds from allocation to other uses by the Legislature and to streamline the budget management process using recent changes by the Sardine Council and Maine Potato Board as models.
In the late 1990s, the Commission first got more involved with Federal public policy working with other “minor” crops (now specialty crops) through the DC based Minor Crop Farmer’s Alliance (MCFA) working on the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), which addressed potential risk from pesticides.
Based on the assessment that engaging in the Maine Legislature had been of value to growers and processors, the Commission in the early 2000s decided to become more involved in Federal policy.
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