Dec 16, 2016Cherry board’s long-time director stepping down
Perry Hedin has managed the tart cherry industry’s federal marketing order – the Cherry Industry Administrative Board – for nearly two decades. He’s been CIAB’s only executive director, but that will change early next year when Hedin, 66, will retire.
“Perry has been a strong leader in the cherry industry,” said Phil Korson, president of the Cherry Marketing Institute. “He has worked hard to represent the CIAB board in an equitable and fair manner.”
CIAB’s executive committee is currently looking for a successor to Hedin – who might retire in January, depending on how long the search takes. Don Gregory, co-owner of Cherry Bay Orchards in northwest Michigan and a member of the committee, said they’re looking for a lot of the same traits Hedin has exemplified over the years: Someone who has the industry’s best interests at heart, who understands the nuances of working within a complex federal marketing order and can communicate not just with growers but with USDA officials.
“The job is a tough one,” Gregory said. “You’re a quasi-governmental employee, administering an order that has an economic impact on everybody it affects. To be able to do that takes somebody with a strong personality.”
Hedin’s legal and agricultural experience helped him manage CIAB. Born in northern California, he earned a degree in psychology from a Massachusetts college, served a brief stint in the Peace Corps, then returned home to California to earn a law degree. It took him about three years to realize he didn’t like practicing law.
“I became a reformed attorney,” he said with a chuckle.
Hedin and his wife, Nancy (he also has a son named Lars), decided to explore opportunities in agriculture. They bought a farm in southern Virginia. For several years, they ran a u-pick fruit operation, but after three successive freeze-outs of their peach crop they decided it wasn’t going to work.
“Mother Nature was not as kind as we hoped she would be,” he said. “The cash flow wasn’t there.”
His brief farming experience taught him an important lesson: To stay in business, growers need adequate compensation.
Hedin and his wife sold the farm and returned to California in the early 1990s. He wanted to remain involved in agriculture in some capacity, so he explored opportunities with state commodity groups. He became executive director of the California Date Administrative Committee, the federal marketing order for the date industry.
After a few years, he learned of the opportunity to manage CIAB. He applied for the job, was hired, and he and his family moved to Michigan in 1997. A few things about the job intrigued him: CIAB was just being created at the time, and he liked the idea of putting a new organization together. And the cherry board covers seven states, whereas the date committee is limited to a single county. There are similarities between the date and tart cherry industries, too. Both have similar commodity groups, along with volume-control and promotion programs. Both have to deal with pits and pit fragments, Hedin said.
Gregory was chair of CIAB’s executive committee at the time Hedin was hired. He said Hedin without question was the best candidate for the job.
“He’s been extremely fair with CIAB’s growers and handlers,” Gregory said.
CIAB’s fundamental role is balancing the supply and demand of tart cherries. If supply is predicted to be higher than demand in a particular year, CIAB restricts the surplus – not allowing it to be sold in domestic markets. Processors are, however, allowed to sell restricted product in new markets and other designated outlets, Hedin said.
The tart cherry industry lacked a marketing order, and thus a stable supply, from 1987 to 1996. The marketplace was fairly chaotic in that period. Handlers fought each other for business and buyers played them against each other until prices were abysmal. In response, the industry petitioned USDA to create a second marketing order, CIAB. Grower returns have been far better since, Hedin said.
Based in Michigan, which typically produces about three-quarters of the U.S. tart cherry crop, CIAB also encompasses growers and handlers in Utah, Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania. Grower and handler assessment fees fund the board’s activities, Hedin said.
In the early years of the marketing order, growers were elated with the improved returns – returns that have been sustained over the years. But “a bit of entropy” eventually comes into play with all marketing orders, as members get used to the good times and forget the reasons orders were created in the first place. When forced to divert their cherries, especially in big crop years, some growers and handlers get very vocal about their frustrations. A lawsuit challenging CIAB’s restrictive power is currently under review by a federal court in western Michigan, Hedin said.
Growers and handlers can decide to renew or discontinue CIAB every six years via referendum. There have been three referendums held since CIAB was created, and in each, growers and handlers approved its function with strong majorities (the next referendum is scheduled for March 2020), he said.
If CIAB were to be discontinued, it would be “devastating” for the industry, Hedin said. Prices plummeted after the industry’s first marketing order was discontinued. If CIAB goes away, prices will probably plummet again.
“I’m an advocate for and believer in the use of marketing orders for the benefit of the grower community,” Hedin said. “Growers need as much ammunition as they can get to continue to farm, and the order helps that.”
— Matt Milkovich, managing editor