Members of a task force that is exploring the idea of merging four Washington tree fruit industry organizations hope to have a concept to present to producers before the end of the year.
The task force is scheduled to meet on September 13 to pin down more details about how the new organization would look—what the membership criteria might be, how the board would be composed, how dues would be collected, and what services it would provide, for example.
The four associations that would merge are the Washington State Horticultural Association, the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, and the Washington Growers Clearing House Association. The groups have overlapping functions in terms of collecting and sharing industry statistics and representing the industry in state legislative matters. Managers of the Hort Association, Traffic Association, and Growers Clearing House are approaching retirement.
West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers, Inc., in Wenatchee, who has been spearheading the effort to streamline the tree fruit industry’s structure, said he hoped that the task force would have a proposal to present during the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting in December so that the state’s producers can give their feedback.
Assuming there is support for going forward, boards of each of the organizations will each need to vote on the proposed merger. Board members of the Clearing House, which has almost 2,000 grower members, have expressed fears that the new organization’s board might be dominated by large, integrated tree fruit companies. While most growers in the industry are independent, vertically integrated operations control most of the tonnage.
Kirk Mayer, Clearing House manager, said growers want assurances that they will continue to have access to the timely shipping and pricing information that they currently receive in order to make informed strategic decisions on their farms.
Speaking to the Clearing House board at their August meeting, Mathison said he hoped that data dissemination would continue, and perhaps even improve, and stressed the importance of having independent growers on the board. “We want as broad participation as possible.”
Jon DeVaney, executive director of Yakima Growers-Shippers, said his board members, who primarily represent large integrated companies, think consolidation makes sense for the whole industry.
“They accept that data sharing to independent growers will be part of the solution,” he said.