Walnut Marketing Order Amendatory Hearing – Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

What is the purpose of the amendatory hearing related to the federal marketing order for California walnuts?

The hearing is part of the administrative process conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  USDA will analyze evidence presented during the hearing to determine whether to continue considering the California Walnut Board’s recommendation to add credit-back authority to the marketing order.

What is the federal marketing order for California walnuts?

Federal marketing orders are authorized by the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937.  With that authority, commodity groups, such as the California walnut industry, enter a structure in which producers vote on implementing and sometimes modifying product handling regulations.  The regulations apply to commercial handlers of the product and may include minimum quality requirements, mandatory inspection, research, marketing promotion, and other initiatives that raise consumer awareness of the product and its attributes and increase financial returns to producers.

Implemented in 1948, the California walnut board is made up of producers, handlers, and a representative of the public who work with Board staff and USDA to develop regulations that support the interests of the California walnut industry.  The marketing order enables the industry to maintain minimum grade and size regulations for walnuts grown in California.  The marketing order also authorizes promotion, and research and development projects.

What is the purpose of the California Walnut Board’s recommendation to add credit-back authority to the marketing order?

Commercial handlers of walnuts pay an assessment to the Board to finance its operations.  The current assessment rate is $0.04 per kernel weight pound of merchantable kernel weight placed into marketing channels.  To encourage handlers to promote and market walnuts, the Board recommended adding authority for the Board to provide credit for certain market promotion expenses paid by handlers against their annual assessments due under the marketing order.

How will the USDA conduct the hearing on April 20-21, 2020?

USDA will conduct the hearing remotely using the Zoom audio-video conferencing system.

How can I join the amendatory hearing related to the walnut marketing order?

Individuals wishing to access the hearing via video through the Zoom video conferencing platform should enter https://www.zoomgov.com/s/1601790781 into their web browser at 11 a.m. ET/8 a.m. PT on April 20, 2020.  Individuals wishing to listen to the proceeding can call either (669) 254-5252 or (646) 828-7666.  The same directions apply to accessing the hearing on April 21, 2020.  While USDA is not charging a fee to access the hearing, your phone or Internet provider may charge carrier fees.

How can I register to testify during the amendatory hearing related to the walnut marketing order?

To testify and present evidence to the presiding judge, individuals should make arrangements by April 15, 2020, by contacting Andrew Hatch at andrew.hatch@usda.gov or Melissa Schmaedick at melissa.schmaedick@usda.gov.  USDA requests that all witnesses submit electronic copies of any prepared statements and supporting documents via email to walnut.hearing@usda.gov by 5 p.m. ET April 15, 2020, so that they can be made public at the time of the hearing.

How do I testify during the hearing once I have registered to testify?

You will be able to testify before the administrative law judge using your computer or any other technology that supports the Zoom application.  If you are participating in the hearing via video technology, your computer must have operating camera, microphone and audio functions.  You can access on-line hearing by clicking this link,  https://www.zoomgov.com/s/1601790781.  If you do not have access to a computer with operating camera, microphone and audio functions, you may use cellular or land-line telephones to testify during the hearing by dialing (669)254-5252 or (646)828-7666.

Do I need to download anything special onto my tablet, smartphone, desktop/laptop computer to access the hearing via video through Zoom?

Individuals wishing to access the online hearing need to ensure their chosen devise, either laptop, desktop, tablet, or smartphone, has the necessary Zoom client software.  Individuals can load the software onto their laptop or desktop computer by going to https://www.zoom.us/download#client_4meeting.  Individuals choosing to use their tablet or smartphone need to load the Zoom app available from either the Apple or Android app store.

May I watch or listen to the hearing without participating in the hearing?

You may watch or listen to the hearing even if you are not a participant in the hearing.  We advise you to pre-register by providing your name, phone number and email address to Andrew Hatch (andrew.hatch@usda.gov or (202) 720-2491) or Melissa Schmaedick  (melissa.schmaedick@usda.gov or (202) 720-2491).  In addition, prior to the hearing, all pre-registered individuals will receive an invite email with the details to access the hearing.

Will the hearing be transcribed and/or recorded?

The hearing will be transcribed by a court transcribing service and will be recorded for USDA training purposes.

Will the transcripts and/or recording be available to the public?

USDA will post the transcripts on its website within two weeks after the hearing.  The recording will not be available to the public.

Can I submit a comment on the Board’s recommendation?

The Administrative Law Judge overseeing the hearing will likely provide a period of time when individuals can submit post-hearing briefs to USDA.  These documents will supplement evidence submitted for the hearing record.

What are the next steps in USDA’s process of deciding whether to implement the Board’s recommendation?

After reviewing the hearing record and submitted briefs, USDA will prepare a Recommended Decision that, upon publication in the Federal Register, will provide an opportunity for individuals to submit public comments either in support of or in opposition to USDA’s findings.  After considering all comments received, USDA will issue a final analysis and determination of merit of the proposed amendments.  Before any of the proposed amendments can be finalized, producers must demonstrate a minimum of two-third support in favor of those changes in a producer referendum.  If the vote is favorable, USDA will finalize the proposed amendments.

Is Zoom safe to use?

Zoom technicians have resolved system vulnerabilities that were highlighted in the national media over the last couple of weeks.  Clients using the Zoom.us commercial platform should update their laptop or desktop with the newer version 4.6.9 (19253.0402). Individuals choosing to use a tablet or smartphone should replace their app with the latest version that Zoom makes available.