National Editor Tom Karst
National Editor Tom Karst

"Talks are continuing" between the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association on a potential merger.

Of course, mum's the word on the actual details. One source told me that it will be a great story once it is over with. As the source tells it, all involved are trying to look out for the best interests of the industry.

As a journalist, that type of response is easy to discount. Details are needed to confirm that heavy lifting is indeed going on, that decisions are being made on how government relations, conventions, leadership,  food safety, communications, etc. will look with a merged group.

Again, the lack of transparency about the process may actually be hindering its progress. I think the broader industry may be more engaged and invested in the talks if members of the task force were available for comment. What is the plan under consideration, precisely?

If this indeed as close as the groups have been in more than a decade to coming together, getting more sunlight on the plan could only help prospects for a merger. Doubts would be more easily turned aside.

Speculating from an outside perspective, perhaps a sticking point could be the fear that grower-shippers may not feel that a combined organization meets their needs. Will grower interests get short shrift?

If so, what would prevent a regional organization like Western Growers remaking itself into a national producer oriented group? WG could court other regional groups and form a lobbying presence in Washington, D.C. apart from the unified United-PMA.

That outcome would beg the question why a merger was pursued in the first place.

Again, that is only speculation. But creating a merged organization is not without its challenges.

The maxim goes, "Follow the money." The finances of a merged association are the foundation for change. In that vein, here are 990 tax returns for the United Fresh for 2010, 2009 and 2008.

Likewise, here are the 990 tax forms for PMA for 2010, 2009 and 2008.

That, unfortunately, is all the detail we have at this point.