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Pea Farmers Fuming Over O’Brien Ad Campaign Local Growers Say Canadian Producers Profiting From Promotion

SUNDAY, JULY 13, 1997

As Olympic decathlon gold medalist Dan O’Brien inspires people to bulk up on peas and lentils, American supermarket shoppers might be putting a Canadian product in their cart.

That is why Pullman farmer Marcus Jacobson is unhappy with the O’Brien ad campaign promoting American peas, lentils and chickpeas.

“They’re a generic product,” Jacobson said. “Are you going to stamp every little lentil ‘Made in the USA?”’

What is more, Washington and Idaho farmers are paying for the O’Brien campaign.

“Why do we promote a product that looks the same and tastes the same as a Canadian product?” Jacobson asked. “That promotion in all likelihood is helping out a Canadian producer.”

Instead, Jacobson said, the Washington and Idaho legume commissions should invest in science.

“I think we need a new variety not a spokesman,” he said.

Research already is the commissions’ top priority, said Tim McGreevy, president of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council. But that does not mean McGreevy is going to forget marketing.

Jacobson disagrees and is urging Washington growers to vote against raising the assessment on legume crops, which funds the commission’s activities, including the O’Brien campaign.

Wednesday is the deadline for Washington producers to vote on the hike. Idaho growers already approved it.

If Washington farmers approve increasing assessments from 1 to 2 percent, that will add about $300,000 to the commissions’ budget for a total of about $1.2 million.

A $10,000 fee was paid to O’Brien for his participation. He donated it to the Dan O’Brien Youth Foundation, a nonprofit agency promoting healthy lifestyles for youth.

Last year was the worst year American producers have had since the drought of 1977, McGreevy said attributing poor yields to too much moisture at the wrong time.

Even this region’s processors have been purchasing Canadian peas to supplement stock levels that are at record lows, McGreevy said.


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