Four Washington tree fruit industry organizations will consolidate next summer, and the question now is how best to do it, Robert Kershaw told members of the Washington State Horticultural Association at their annual meeting.

“People keep asking me what are the odds of this coming together,” he said. “It’s a hundred percent.”

But the task force that’s been working on the consolidation plan needs input from the industry about how the new organization, to be named the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, will look and operate, added Kershaw, who is president of the Yakima Valley Grower-Shippers Association, one of four groups that will unite. Growers are asked to submit their feedback on the draft proposal by January 10.

“It’s not whether we’re coming together, it’s how to do it properly,” he said. “We have to make sure we have appropriate input from this industry because we have one shot to do it right. The goal is to create one organization that’s more efficient and can effectively serve the members. We don’t want to lose any services. We want to make sure we are taking all the services that are currently done and do them even better.”

The other three organizations involved are the Washington State Horticultural Association, the Washington Growers Clearing House Association, and the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association. The task force was made up of representatives of those groups along with at large members.

At-large member West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, said the task force hired a consultant to interview tree fruit producers and politicians and economists associated with the industry to help design the new organization. It involved overcoming what Mathison described as “a shortfall of trust,” between the northern and southern production regions, and large and small growers, for example.

The new organization will have four main functions:

- To provide timely and accurate information for the industry

- To provide education, including an annual meeting, to keep the membership up to date

- To be an advocate for the industry in legislative and regulatory affairs

- To speak with one voice on behalf of the industry.

“We have a world class industry that’s second to none,” Mathison said. “How do we take what we have and build an entity that’s going to maintain the strength of the industry?”

Kershaw said the cost to the industry should be no higher than currently and it should be more efficient over time. It is proposed that the new organization will have a board of 11 to 13 people and a transitional board will search for a chief executive officer to lead it. The organization will have offices in both Wenatchee and Yakima in order to maintain services to growers. It will be up and running by the end of August in time for the new crop year, Kershaw said.

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Kirk Mayer, manager of the Growers Clearing House, encourages the industry to provide their input on the following points:

1)      Should there be a specific spots on the board for growers who make the majority of their tree fruit related income from tree fruit production and devote most of their time to tree fruit production?  Should a salaried orchard manager qualify for a grower position?

2)      Should the grower board of trustee positions be open to all growers, including absentee owners, vertically integrated growers, or growers whose orchard represents a second, third, or fourth income?

3)    How should members be nominated to the board?

4)      Should the at large positions be open to all segments of the industry (growers, packers, and marketers) or allocated among specific categories?

5)      Should board positions be limited to one person per firm?

6)     How large should the board be?

7)      Should all members be eligible to vote for board candidates (by mail or email) or should only those attending the annual meeting be eligible to vote?

8)      Should voting members only have one vote?  What about a voting member that has multiple legal tree fruit entities?

9)      Should all participating associations appoint a like number of individuals to the CEO/executive director search/selection committee?

10)   Should all four participating associations merge?

Send comments to:

• Kirk Mayer, Washington Growers Clearinghouse: kmayer@waclearinghouse.org

• Bruce Grim  Hort Association: bruce@wdahort.org

• Charlie Poimianek, Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association: ctp@wvtraffic.com

• Jon DeVaney, Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers: jon@yvgsa.com