In an effort to consolidate operations and create a single voice for their industry, four associations joined forces and formed the Washington State Tree Fruit Association earlier this month. With the mergers, though, came goodbyes for longtime leaders.
They may not all be from the same tree, but they all help produce fruit. And now the groups are all working together.
Earlier this month, the Washington State Tree Fruit Association got its start, replacing four organizations that had more narrow focuses: the Washington Growers Clearing House Association, the Washington State Horticultural Association, the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, and the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association.
The merger, which had been in the works for years, aims to improve efficiencies and eliminate multiple groups with overlapping missions. More than 90 percent of voting members of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association approved the plan; it was unanimously approved by board members of the other organizations.
“If you were a nonfruit person, it was confusing,” West Mathison, a grower who helped lead the consolidation, told the Yakima Herald.
The new association is intended to give the tree-fruit industry a “louder voice” representing as many as 100,000 workers, according to Mathison.
Leaders Transition Out
While largely backed by the industry, the merger comes with some downsides—particularly on the staffing front.
Two of the groups, the Washington Growers Clearing House Association and the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, did not send any staff to the new organization. Some staff members from the now-closed organizations have long histories in the industry, such as WGCHA Manager Kirk Mayer, who had been with the association for 41 years and is retiring.
“I have mixed emotions because the Clearing House has been serving growers and the tree fruit industry for 73 years, so you hate to see it go,” Mayer told Good Fruit Grower in June, commenting on the merger. “But I think the [consolidation] task force, including the Clearing House members on it, was able to put together a good proposal to continue the current services provided by the four associations. With a 93 percent approval rating, the proposal was seen as something that our growers could support.”
Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association Manager Charlie Pomianek, who had been with his association since 1992, also retired as the merger took effect. He said that despite the leadership changes, this is a good move for the tree fruit industry.
“They’re going to have to be proactive versus reactive going forward,” he told Good Fruit Grower last month. “I think that’s real important, because the new organization will have to reflect the membership and the membership will have to be engaged.”
Each of the four associations had a history dating back more than 70 years. The Washington State Horticultural Association was more than 100 years old.