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Tree fruit groups work on merger details

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Four Washington tree fruit organizations may be closer to becoming one for a clearer lobbying voice.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Four Washington tree fruit trade organizations continue to work toward merger with the drafting of bylaws and a final vote before May 1.

The board of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee accepted a draft plan for merger on Feb. 20 and decided its voting members will make the final decision in April after bylaws are drafted, said Kirk Mayer, Clearing House manager.

The board decided it had not heard enough from its members to make the final decision on its own and on the advice of an attorney decided to mail ballots and a recommendation to voting members, Mayer said.

There are 850 voting members and an additional 1,321 non-voting members who will be given a chance to become voting members before the vote, he said.

The Clearing House, the Washington State Horticultural Association, the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association and the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association are considering merging by Sept. 1 mainly to present a single voice in lobbying the state Legislature and Congress. The four groups formed a task force about a year ago to draft a plan following informal, preliminary discussions that began in 2010.

In January, the plan was changed at the request of the Clearing House board to designate five of 13 positions on the board of the new Washington State Tree Fruit Association for independent growers. The board accepted that with another five positions for packer-shipper-marketers and three at-large positions, Mayer said, while indicating the other groups could still want to change things.

The Hort Association, Traffic Association and Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers are all reviewing their processes for approval, he said.

Mayer would not say whether he thinks the merger will occur. He said the Clearing House does not have exclusive rights to pricing data it distributes to its members but gets that data from the Traffic Association for the Wenatchee District and from several shippers for the Yakima District.

“About 65 to 70 percent of FOB prices are reported to us and we put that in our reports,” he said.

The Traffic Association and Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers also compile crop estimates, monthly storage numbers and weekly shipment totals that the Clearing House distributes to members.

West Mathison, task force chairman and president of Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, could not be reached for comment. He has previously voiced optimism. Jon DeVaney, executive director of Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers, said he still thinks the merger will happen but can’t comment on specifics since details are still being negotiated.

The task forced has hoped to have bylaws drafted for acceptance by April 1.

The plan has been “tweaked” since late January, Mayer said, but he wouldn’t say how. Questions to be resolved in the bylaws include apportionment of member votes — whether there will be one vote per grower or orchard, whether business partners would have individual votes and if growers with orchards in the Wenatchee and Yakima districts will vote in both districts, he said.



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