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.

The proposal also calls for a 13-member board of directors, with four growers, four packers and five at-large members.

One issue that still needs to be addressed is who could serve as at-large members, said Scott Dorsing, vice president of Dorsing Farms Inc., Othello.

“How do you keep fair representation so it’s not weighted to one organization?” he asked.

Before the proposal can move forward, the boards of all four groups would have to vote on it.

The task force has developed a timeline from January through August that includes transitioning the individual group boards and searching for a chief executive officer, Kershaw said.

Once a CEO is selected, he or she will move forward with staffing.

The proposed consolidation also meshes with pending retirements of leaders within three of the four organizations, Mathison said.

“It just works out that there’s going to be succession processes for a lot of the association leaders here in the next 12-24 months,” he said.

Mathison said he’s made several presentations on the proposal to various groups and believed the task force has received comments from about 80% of the industry.

Nevertheless, he and fellow task force members used the horticultural show to make one more request for comments.

The deadline to submit input is Jan. 10, Mathison said.

“We have to make sure we have the appropriate input from everybody in the industry, because we have one shot to get this right,” Kershaw said.



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