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Tree fruit groups still working on merger

Dan Wheat
Their decision slipped a month but four Washington tree fruit trade organizations still plan to merge.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — They hoped to have a final vote before May 1. That didn’t happen but four Washington tree fruit trade organizations are still working toward merging by Sept. 1.

The final vote by members of one of the organizations, Washington Growers Clearing House Association, should start soon after a May 22 board meeting and be finished in two weeks, said Kirk Mayer, Clearing House manager.

“Discussions went a little slower than anticipated,” Mayer said in explaining the one month slide in the schedule.

Mayer and Jon DeVaney, executive director of Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, said they think the merger will occur.

The Clearing House, Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers, the Washington State Horticultural Association and the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association began discussing merger in 2009, ostensibly to eliminate duplication of services and save money. Since then the main purpose became to present a single voice in lobbying the state Legislature and U.S. Congress. The four groups formed a task force in 2013 to draft a plan.

West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, who called for merger in 2011, chairs the task force. He said he is optimistic because the merger “balances the representation of large and small growers on the board, providing the mechanism to make difficult decisions that will provide better leadership for our industry.”

An issue for awhile, raised by the Clearing House board, was ensuring independent grower representation on the board of the new organization.

A 13-member board will be comprised of five independent growers, five packers, two at-large growers and one marketer, Mayer said.

The five independent growers cannot be packers or marketers, Mayer said. The five packers may also be growers and be affiliated with marketers, he said. The two at-large growers could be growers of any size and be independent or large companies that grow, pack and market, he said. The single marketer position can be affiliated with packers, DeVaney said.

Members of the new organization, so far called the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, will get one vote per tax entity or company, Mayer said. So people with multiple tax entities will get multiple votes, he said.

Assessments will be determined by the new board but are expected to be in the neighborhood of .75 to 1 cent per box, similar to what people pay now, he said.

“Right now Clearing House members pay .75 cents to the Clearing House and fees to either Yakima Growers-Shippers or Wenatchee Valley Traffic and membership to hort (horticultural association),” he said.

The Clearing House board endorsed the basic merger plan and draft bylaws at its April 24 meeting, Mayer said. It will meet May 22 and develop a recommendation to its membership that will go with a ballot to members, he said. The vote may take two weeks, he said.

The boards of the other three organizations likely will vote before May 22, he said. The Clearing House requires members vote, DeVaney said, because it is a member-owned cooperative while the other groups are associations.

The task force will appoint a transitional board that will operate until the end of the year when a regular board is elected. DeVaney said he will apply to become president and CEO. Mayer said he and the leaders of the other two organizations will be retiring.



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