Roles of industry organizations

Organization Responsibility
Washington State Horticultural Association •Education (annual meeting)
•State legislative and regulatory issues
•GRASSP food safety program
Northwest Horticultural Council Federal legislative, regulatory, technical,   and food safety issues
•Foreign trade and phytosanitary issues
Washington Growers Clearing House Association Statistics on fruit prices and shipments
•State legislative and regulatory issues
Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association Statistics on price and movement
•State legislative and regulatory issues
Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association Statistics on price and movement •State legislative, regulatory, and   transportation issues
•Master health plan for industry
Northwest Fruit Exporters Export and antidumping issues
•Grade standards
The Marketing Association Facilitates grower discussions of price and volume
Washington Growers League •Labor issues and training
U.S. Apple Association •Federal legislative and regulatory issues
•Consumer education
•Nutrition research
•National crop statistics
Farm Bureau State and federal lobbying
Source: West Mathison

If President Barack Obama wanted to talk to someone in the tree fruit industry about a guest-worker program to address labor shortages, who would he call? Who would have the authority to talk to him?

West Mathison, retiring president of the Washington State Horticultural Association, posed the hypothetical question during the association’s annual meeting in December. The answer to the question is not clear, he said, because of the many overlapping functions of the Pacific Northwest fruit industry organizations.

He suggested that it would be in the industry’s interest to try to eliminate duplication among the many groups that represent it so that it can engage more effectively in legislative and regulatory issues.

Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, Washington, said the track record of the Northwest tree fruit industry on legislative issues at the state and federal level has been inconsistent and the efforts poorly funded because the industry is not ­structured to have discipline, a focused message, or clear leadership.

“The industry organizations that represent us look the same way as they did in the 1950s,” he said.

Today, four organizations represent the industry at the national and international level. Six work with the U.S. Apple Association. Six represent the industry in the state capital of Olympia. Four report f.o.b. pricing and movement data. Eight report crop size. And no one is officially responsible for county or city issues, though many ­organizations probably are involved.

Working hard

“In good faith, everyone is working hard to support the interests of the tree fruit industry, but if we think of our own businesses, any time we have more than one person doing a job who don’t have to structurally work together with discipline and accountability, normally the outcome costs more and the result is not as good,” Mathison said.

“I’m not saying we have to consolidate them into one group—the folks we have working for us are excellent—but we need a mechanism for all those folks to be pulling in the same direction and structurally working together with accountability,” he added.

With the current structure, it’s difficult for the industry to make decisions and set priorities, he said. It could be more successful if it had a unified voice.

Mathison suggested that the industry form a new entity with an executive board representing vertically integrated companies, packers, and independent growers. The board would be funded by packers and would provide direction and leadership for industry activities.

The board would have four subcommittees, each with a manager. One would cover political and regulatory issues; the second would head industry education and communication; the third would collect price and ­volume statistics and disseminate them to the industry; and the fourth would cover ­technical matters, such as phytosanitary and food safety issues.

He proposed that the industry hold a summit of industry leaders to discuss the idea. If there’s interest in moving ahead, a plan on the structure and governance should be drafted and circulated to each of the industry organizations, he said.

Then, a summit of all the board presidents or chairs of each organization should be held so they can create a Memorandum of Understanding on how each of the ­organizations would transition and develop a timeline for implementing it.


Jon DeVaney, executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, said refining the industry support structure is something that boards of his and other organizations have discussed for several years.

He expected that there would be meetings between board members and staff on an ongoing basis but said there was no current timeline for making changes.

“In the meantime, what the industry is clearly focused on is making sure our actions are more coordinated, and the first step is to make sure there’s good communication among these organizations, so we’re not duplicating efforts or working at cross purposes,” he said. “It’s very bad if any public official gets varying messages from industry organizations, so we’re working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

There will be turnover in the management of a number of industry groups over the next few years as people approach retirement, and it makes sense for the industry to be thinking ahead about changes that might be made, he said.

“Moving forward cautiously and looking for ways to use resources more efficiently is in keeping with how all of our members run their own businesses,” he added.

Bruce Grim, executive director of the Hort Association, believes that some stream­lining could take place. “We’re utilizing and spending scarce grower resources, and it should be incumbent on all of us to make certain we’re using these funds in the best ways ­possible and avoid duplication of services where we can possibly accomplish that.”

Grim said efforts are already being made to coordinate activities. The managers or executives of all the industry organizations have been meeting annually for the past ­several years to discuss what they’re doing and avoid overlap.

Grim is also director of The Marketing Associations, a job he held before being appointed to run the Hort Association, and said consolidating the staff and premises of the two organizations has saved the industry more than $60,000 annually.

“We’re not talking about industry organizations going away,” he said, “but I think we look at things, and if we can create Memoranda of Understanding to move forward and consolidate some of the activities, we should consider doing that.”