Prunes

Prunes are prunes, not dried plums

Do you even know what a prune is?

Some of you may quickly reply, “It is a dried plum.” Others will say that they remember them, “because grandma used to eat them a lot.”

Michael A. Cox

Michael A. Cox is a Montrose-based content provider. He may be reached at michaelc@agwriter.us.

Yes, grandma ate them (and many of us still do.) But no, they are not dried plums. Prunes are prunes. Those big juicy plums we eat in the U.S. are mostly descendants of fruit bred by Luther Burbank in Santa Rosa, California. Prunes are smaller cousins to the plums that came from Europe and, while most have experienced them dried, they are pretty tasty right off the tree.

After we sold off the Cox pear orchard, I spent a lot of time in the prune orchards. That’s when I came in contact with Sunsweet. One of the jobs my best friend, neighbor Marshall, and I had was hauling the one-ton bins of dried fruit from the dehydrator to the Sunsweet plant in Gilroy, California. From there, they got shipped to the facility that delivered prunes to the world.

Sunsweet was a co-op, owned by we farmers. Like Sunkist, the co-op of orange growers, Sunsweet became a brand known worldwide. After I migrated from the farm to the radio studio, I remember my pride when Sunkist hired my hero, Stan Freberg, to do prune commercials. Sunsweet had developed the pit-less dried prune. Freeberg gave the world, “Sunsweet Prunes, today the pit, tomorrow the wrinkles.”

Well, Freberg didn’t live to see prunes with no wrinkles, but the die was cast for food chain co-ops to attain what is now called the “Top of Mind” awareness of their brands that only companies like Kellogg’s, Bristol/Myers and General Motors had achieved. Another co-op style brand that attained huge success is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which through the Beef Checkoff Program, attained Top of Mind status with their “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner,” campaign.

Quite honestly, having spent a lot of time around and in the branding and ad creative business, there are few brands that have attained the life-long name recognition that the beef campaign has. The radio and T.V. spots produced with Beef Checkoff dollars have become iconic. James Garner, Robert Mitchum, Jim Davis, and Sam (oh, that voice) Elliott lent their talents to deliver some of the best broadcast ads ever. And they worked.

The beef industry has seen its rough spots, but the Beef Checkoff Program, which supports a lot more than T.V. spots, is the steamroller that helps iron them out. The costs of the massive marketing and brand awareness work that the Checkoff Program does at both the state and national level is supported by a $1 assessment on every head of cattle that goes to market.

The Checkoff program came out of the 1985 Farm Bill and was launched in 1988 after 79% of the nation’s producers voted for it.

The ultimate watchdog is the USDA and Sonny Perdue. Literally dozens of layers of rules and regulations are in place to protect the investment of the producers. However, I have never seen so much sunlight and transparency when it comes to keeping things on the up and up.

One thing that never happens with beef bucks is politics. The Checkoff funds are strictly off limits when it comes to lobbying and campaigning. Finally, no one has advanced a credible criticism of the marketing job done by the program. And yet, there is a sizable group, mostly located in the northern tier of the U.S., that would terminate the program ASAP. (See the story elsewhere on this page.)

The fly in the ointment (only people who eat prunes remember that phrase) is a group of producers and auction operators known as R-Calf. The boss of the outfit is Bill Bullard in Montana. I started asking around and I haven’t found anyone hereabouts who claims membership. I am curious to talk to someone who seriously believes the Checkoff Program is a dud.

Water OK for now

Steve Anderson at the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) said the other day that we are still on 80% call for irrigation water, but things look pretty good after the rains that have come to most areas nearby. The Ridgway account has been drawn down 25%, but we still have 15,000 acre feet left.

“I would like to mention that the Colorado River Water Conservation District is going to the voter for a one mill levy increase in the November election,” Steve said. He said the revenue would be used for projects on the ground, most of which are already in progress.

Anderson also reported that the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, of which the UVWUA is a part, is in the process of updating its basin implementation plan. Anderson said that, “This involves listing projects which help the water community both from an operation and environmental perspective.”

An example would be the development of Rams Horn Reservoir on Cow Creek, which would capture peaks of the daily flow and move them by pipe to Ridgway Reservoir.

Just a drill

You know, I really do appreciate the warning on those seeds from China, but now it looks to me like we may be living on the edge of paranoia. So far, the USDA and the Border protection folks have discovered that we are dealing with tomato and morning glory seeds mostly. The purple covering on some of them was recognized quickly by botanist types as a normal seed covering.

Some Facebook friends (you would expect this from my friends) planted a couple of seeds in a glass or paper cup. One died right away, the other looked a lot like lemongrass.

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