Four Washington tree fruit groups consider consolidation

12/04/2013 04:30:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

West MathisonMathisonWENATCHEE, Wash. — Plans to consolidate four Washington state tree fruit trade groups into one are moving forward, with the hopes of having a new organization in place by the start of the 2014 harvest.

Three members of the industry consolidation task force committee presented a progress update at the Washington State Horticultural Association annual meeting, Dec. 3.

The effort involves the horticultural association, Washington Growers Clearing House Association and Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, all based in Wenatchee, and the Yakima Valley Grower-Shippers Association, Yakima.

The concept of a unifed group was brought up by West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers Inc., at the show two years ago. At the time, he was outgoing horticultural association president.

The goal is to provide the same services more efficiently while speaking in a more unified voice when lobbying on state and federal levels, said Robert Kershaw, president of Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima.

Although a formal name has yet to be adopted, the task force has referred to the proposed organization as the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, Mathison said.

More than a year ago, the four groups formed an exploratory task force to study consolidation.

Mathison said he’s impressed with how receptive members of the four organizations have been.

“There’s great unity within all of the groups, and we’re pretty excited just about the chatter that’s occurred,” he said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of humility during this process.”

The task force hired Colin Rorie, president of CCR & Associates, Dallas, who is a consultant involved with the failed merger of the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association.

Rorie canvassed 30 people in the Washington tree fruit industry to identify key points for a new organization.

They included providing accurate crop reporting; maintaining a health plan; providing good educational programs, including those offered at the annual meeting; creating stronger legislative and regulatory representation; and improving industry advocacy.

Another issue identified during the interviews was the inherent distrust within the industry — Yakima versus Wenatchee, growers versus packers, and small growers versus larger growers, Mathison said.

To ensure members can meet face to face with association representatives, the proposal calls for two offices — one in Yakima and one in Wenatchee.

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