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Jon DeVaney in his Yakima, Washington office  on July 10, 2014. DeVaney was announced on July 9 as the president of the newly formed Washington State Tree Fruit Association. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Jon DeVaney in his Yakima, Washington, office on July 10, 2014. DeVaney was announced on July 9 as the president of the newly formed Washington State Tree Fruit Association. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Jon DeVaney has been named president of the new Washington State Tree Fruit Association, which is expected to be operating by September 1.

He is executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, one of four
organizations that will merge to form the new
association. The others are the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, the Washington State Horticultural Association, and the Washington Growers Clearing House Association.

“It’s very exciting, and it’s a huge honor,” DeVaney told Good Fruit Grower. “This merger is something that the industry has talked about for a long time. There are a lot of people who have been skeptical over a lot of years about the ability to do this, so there’ll be a lot of attention on how well we perform over the next few months.”

A Tree Fruit Consolidation Task Force has been working for more than two years to merge the four entities in order to gain efficiencies and avoid duplication of efforts. The new association will be formed under the Traffic Association’s tax ID and 501 (c)(6) nonprofit status. The Traffic Association will change its name and adopt new bylaws to become the Washington State Tree Fruit -Association.

Before joining the Growers-Shippers Association in 2009, -DeVaney was the Washington State director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency.

He has also worked as a staff member for Doc Hastings, Congressional representative for Washington’s 4th District, and as director of legislative and regulatory affairs for the Northwest Horticultural Council. He has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Washington and a master’s in history from Georgetown -University, -Washington, D.C.

 Last meeting

Board members of the Washington Growers Clearing House will hold their last meeting in the association’s 73-year history in August. In a mail ballot, its members overwhelmingly approved the board’s recommendation to dissolve the association and consolidate with the other groups.

“I have mixed emotions because the Clearing House has been serving growers and the tree fruit industry for 73 years, so you hate to see it go,” said Kirk Mayer, who’s been on the Clearing House staff for 41 years and has been manager since 1997. “But I think the task force, including the Clearing House members on it, was able to put together a good proposal to continue the current services provided by the four associations.”

One of the most visible functions of the Clearing House has been the weekly “yellow sheet” that it sends to about 2,000 growers and industry people.

The bulletin includes data on fruit movement and pricing along with crop-related news. The association also provides a year-end price summary to help growers in their decision making and planning. In addition, it represents growers on regulatory issues.

The Growers Clearing House was formed in 1941 when the tree fruit industry was facing tremendous economic challenges and growers were walking away from their orchards because they were no longer financially viable, Mayer recounted. Industry leaders asked the federal government for assistance, but the government decided to study the situation first to find out how best to address the problems.

“A lot of growers were selling for cash,” he said. “The cash buyer would negotiate with the grower and buy their entire crop. The grower didn’t know the value to the crop, so, often, they did not fare very well in the -negotiations.”

Once the Clearing House was formed to keep growers informed about pricing trends (among other functions), the government provided financial assistance to the industry. Membership in the association was voluntary.

Staffing

DeVaney officially starts his new job September 1, but will work on the transition in the meantime. He is involved in writing the budget and compiling the -combined membership list. He’s also working on a staffing plan and assigning duties to make sure that none of the member -services are interrupted.

West Mathison, spokesperson for the transition board, said there were multiple strong candidates and DeVaney was one of two people interviewed.

The board was impressed with his experience in managing large numbers of people while working with the USDA, his ability to manage change, and his ability to step into a situation where there are not a lot of systems in place and bring about a systematic approach to solving problems, Mathison said.

The heads of the other three organizations, Bruce Grim, Charlie Pomianek, and Mayer, are planning to retire after the merger. DeVaney said he would talk to the remaining staff to find out who was doing what and who would be the best fit for each position.

One of the priorities is that members continue to receive the accurate and timely reports on prices and crop movement that they count on now to make -marketing decisions, he said.

Another priority is to continue preparations for what used to be the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting in Kennewick in December, the industry’s major educational event. During the meeting, a new board will be elected to replace the current -transition board.

The transition board is composed of representatives of the four organizations: Mark Stennes, Sam Bodwin, David Smelter, Steve Zediker, Jeff Cleveringa, Jon Alegria, Sean Gilbert, and Mathison. •

(Editors note: This story has been updated on July 22, 2014 to reflect August 1, 2014 publication of this story.)