Marketing agreements and orders are legal instruments authorized by the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 and in subsequent amendments. The Secretary of Agriculture is vested with the power to exercise the use of these instruments to regulate the marketing of eligible commodities -- fruits, vegetables, specialty crops, and milk -- in certain clearly specified ways. Marketing orders help fruit and vegetable growers work together to solve marketing problems that they cannot solve individually. They help balance the availability of quality product with the need for adequate returns to producers and the demands of consumers.
Marketing orders are binding on all individuals and businesses who are classified as "handlers" in the geographic area covered by the order. Marketing orders are distinguished from marketing agreements, which are binding only on handlers who are signatories of the agreements. The definition of handler and handling depends on the particular program. As defined in most agreements and orders, a handler is anyone who receives the commodity from producers, grades and packs it, transports, or places the commodity in commercial channels. Handlers must comply with the grade, size, quality, volume, or other requirements established under the program.
All marketing orders are initiated by producers. Producers have an active role in the development of program provisions and support them at hearings. Approval by a two-thirds or larger majority (three-fourths of California citrus producers) by number or volume represented in a referendum is required before any program is implemented or amended.
For fruit, vegetable, and specialty crop marketing orders, local committees of farmers and handlers - appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture - administer the orders. Committee expenses, as set forth in budgets approved by USDA, are defrayed by assessments on handlers. Generally, any excess funds are set aside in a reserve fund for future needs, but they may be credited to handlers' accounts against future assessments or returned to handlers at the end of each marketing season upon request.
Committees employ staffs to administer order provisions (e.g., collect assessments, assemble reports, oversee compliance with order provisions), and must maintain the confidentiality of all information submitted by handlers. Committees actively work with all handlers to explain marketing order requirements and to advise them on any particular concerns the handlers may have. Also, committees issue periodic instructions - written in plain English - and provide pertinent dates to comply with any required assessment payments, report submissions, or other program requirements. Committees place a special emphasis on helping small businesses that are handlers regulated under their programs for the first time.