WENATCHEE, Wash. — The newest draft plan to merge four Washington tree fruit trade organizations would reflect the make-up of the industry, a proponent says.

Large companies account for 55 to 65 percent of the state’s tree fruit acreage, said West Mathison, president of one of the largest companies, Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, and leader of a task force proposing the plan.

“We’re trying to make board governance reflect the composition of the industry,” he said, after presenting details of the new plan at North Central Washington Apple Day at the Wenatchee Convention Center, Jan. 23. The grower meeting was sponsored by Washington State University Extension and the North Central Washington Fieldmen’s Association.

The original plan, outlined in early December at the Washington State Horticultural Association’s annual meeting, did not assure positions for independent growers only and would have allowed large companies to occupy all the positions, Kirk Mayer, manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association, has said.

The Clearing House board unanimously wanted some seats reserved for independent growers, he said, to preserve their voice within the industry.

Mayer and Clearing House board member Frank Lyall, a Grandview grower who objected to the original plan, have said the new plan provides adequate representation for independent growers.

Mathison said it was never the intent to exclude independent growers, but he has previously said that large companies should have greater say since they have the most acreage.

He noted independent growers make up 35 to 45 percent of industry acreage. He said Sid Morrison, a Zillah grower and former member of Congress and state Legislature, told him that a unified industry voice is most effective in lobbying and saves legislators from trying to decide who is right if they hear conflicting voices from an industry. Two years ago, Morrison voiced reservations about a merger. One voice in lobbying has been cited by Mathison and others as the main reason for merger.

The new plan calls for independent growers to have five of 13 positions on the board of what would be called the Washington Tree Fruit Association. Two of the five would be from roughly north of Interstate 90 and three from south, reflecting greater acreage in the south, Mathison said.

Five positions would be for companies that pack and sell fruit, again with two north and three south of the interstate. Three remaining positions would be at-large north or south and could be any grower, including packer-marketers that also grow.

“Independent grower” is defined as an owner of orchards in tree fruit production who devotes a majority of the time to agricultural production but does not have ownership in a packing or marketing company.

Trustees would be limited to no more than three consecutive three-year terms.

Grower assessment for funding would be at current levels at less than 1 cent per box of fruit. Marketers shipping less than 1 million boxes of fruit annually would pay $1,500 and those shipping more than 1 million would pay $2,500.

The four organizations being merged would be the Clearing House, Horticultural Association, the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association and the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association.

The boards of all four organizations are being asked to vote on whether to proceed with the plan by March 1, Mathison said. He said he believes they will proceed. The task force will draft bylaws for acceptance by April 1. If the bylaws are approved, a transition board will be appointed to hire an executive director and begin transition toward Sept. 1 completion. The old organizations would wind down by the end of 2014 or early 2015, he said.

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