Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mac nut association's future in doubt

The Hawaii Macadamia Nut Association, which for years has represented growers and processors of mac nuts, is running low on cash and scaling back operations.
The board met Thursday to discuss the critical shortage of funding and decided to operate on a volunteer basis.
"Funding will be minimal, from those who still believe there is value in the organization," said MacFarms CEO David Rietow, the chairman of the association board. "The big loss is in the area of research and in the promotion of the Hawaiian nut as the world's finest."
Macadamia growers and manufacturers of mac nuts products do not always have the same economic interests. Growers benefit from higher prices. Processors don't. Growers want to aggressively market the Big Island mac nut brand. Processors don't, because most of them import a lot of the mac nuts they use from other places. (Rietow said, however, that foreign kernel is mixed only in products shipped to the Mainland.)
"The [association] has been struggling to find its identity for a long time," said one board member on condition his name not be used. "The funding of the organization was 99 percent from the generous donations of four or five of the larger processors and the rest from a token donation of $25 per year from the growers."
Association membership peaked years ago around 200 members. Four times as many farmers grow mac nuts. However, fewer than two dozen growers have 20 acres or more and it is these that have generally supported the association.
The board member and other sources said foreign competition sent prices lower while expenses kept climbing and growers became apathetic about supporting the association, and more recently one of the major processors decided to drop its support as well. The result has been insufficient cash to continue operating as usual.
"Hawaii macadamia growers need to take ownership of this organization or start a new one and fund it through assessments on their crops, to fund a full-time director who can assist in acquiring grants, funding important research projects and marketing 100 percent Hawaiian macadamia nuts," said Richard Schnitzler, president of Hamakua Macadamia Nut Co. and a former association board member. "Processors and manufacturers should not be allowed in the organization."
Schnitzler said this does not mean that the relationship between the processors and the growers should be adversarial.
"On the contrary," he said, "it would be important for both to share information and work together, but processors should not be left to manage or mismanage the Hawaii macadamia nut growers' future."
Members of the association include, among many others, Mac Farms Hawaii, Hawaiian Host Inc., Island Princess, ML Macadamia Orchards and Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Co.

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