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Fruit organization merger proposal advances

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

The process to merge four Washington tree fruit trade organizations by fall continues to move forward.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — A plan to merge four Washington tree fruit trade organizations is moving ahead.

A task force of the four organizations worked on the plan Jan. 17. Progress included clarification of representation of independent growers on the new governing board, West Mathison, task force chairman and president of Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, said after the meeting.

“The task force continues to have good collaboration from all organizations and there is a good faith to reorganize the four organizations into one entity,” Mathison said.

He declined to give specifics on the size of the new board and how independent grower will be defined, saying new language needs to be circulated in writing among the organizations before being released. He said he would probably give more details at a public industry meeting, North Central Washington Apple Day at the Wenatchee Convention Center, on Jan 23.

The new draft includes seats for independent growers at a satisfactory ratio, said Kirk Mayer, manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association, one of the four groups.

Under a draft released in early December, large companies that grow, pack and market fruit could dominate the new board, he said. The Clearing House board unanimously wants some board positions reserved for independent growers who make a significant part of their income from tree fruit production, he said.

Frank Lyall, a Grandview grower and Clearing House board member, said he thinks independent growers will be adequately represented. Previously, he was concerned they would not be.

“I think the Clearing House and independent growers did as well as we hoped we could do and that’s encouraging. Overall for the Clearing House, we were very positive coming out of the meeting,” Lyall said.

The task force would like to have the four groups adopt bylaws of the new merged organization by April 1 with the goal of it being operational by Sept. 1, Mathison said.

The Clearing House, Washington State Horticultural Association, Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association and Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association would be merged to provide a unified voice in state and federal legislative and regulatory affairs.

Backers of the merger say it is confusing for legislators to hear sometimes conflicting voices from the industry. Others say more voices, not fewer, is good.

Lyall and others have been concerned about maintaining price and shipment data to growers and flow of information to the public. There is language to that effect in the plan, Mayer said.

Member services will be the same or better, Mathison said.



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