Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association and Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association are once again looking at the potential for a merger.

Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer of River Point Farms, Hermiston, Ore., and immediate past chairwoman of the United Fresh Produce Association, and Mike O’Brien, outgoing PMA chairman and vice president of produce and floral for Schnuck Markets Inc., St. Louis, lead the task force considering the merger.

PMA, United Fresh discuss mergerSmith declined to comment on the discussion, but released a statement.

“Earlier this year our two associations formed a joint task force to look at potential synergies and future opportunities,” according to the statement. “That group has met twice to continue its dialogue.”

The task force presented its findings to the United Fresh and PMA boards, which voted to continue discussions with “outside experts to lead a rigorous process of due diligence,” according to the statement.

“Our officers, executive team and staff look forward to continuing both associations’ efforts to maximize the value we provide our members,” Smith and O’Brien said in the statement.

United Fresh and PMA staff deferred comment about the process to O’Brien and Smith. O’Brien was traveling and not available for comment on the morning of Oct. 18.

Smith said in a phone interview Oct. 18 that there are 12 participants in the joint task force looking at the possibility of a merger, six from each organization. The names of the participants are not being released, she said.

Smith said she couldn’t say who initiated the discussion.

“It was board- and member-driven,” she said. “Membership inquiries were done on both sides and so discussions ensued and we formed a task force,”

She said both groups have agreed to commit resources to do the necessary due diligence to see if it can work, but she declined to estimate how much money would be used in the evaluation.

There is no approved timeline established, Smith said.

“Both groups agree that the due diligence will dictate the timeline,” she said. “This is not something to be rushed.”

These recent discussions are not the first time that PMA and United Fresh have considered the possibility of a merger.

In 2007, six months of discussions failed to yield a merger agreement.

In 1995, United Fresh leaders proposed creating one new national association. In response to that proposal, PMA offered to absorb United under a plan that contained “non-negotiable” terms and merger talks were eventually abandoned.