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Pundit’s Mailbag —
One-Voice Plea On PMA/United Merger Issue

We last spoke with John R. Baillie of the Jack T. Baillie Co., Baillie Family Farms and Tri-County Packing back in early October. John is the legacy of a long family tradition of farming, and while spinach crisis was in full swing, he gave a spirited defense of farmers, the Salinas Valley and of family pride in a rich agricultural heritage in our piece, In Defense of Salinas.

John has been reflecting on the crisis and what it tells us about our industry. Now he is weighing in on the issue of a possible merger between PMA and United:

I’m your Salinas grower that made issues of the water used in the Salinas Valley, and now I starting to see things a little clearer than I did 3 — 4 weeks ago…

I too am looking at which associations I want my companies to be a part of… My grandfather started serving on the United board in 1950 and as far back as I can remember, the Jack T. Baillie Co., Inc. has been a member of United with Jack T. being the Chairman of the Board in 1968...

I’m a member of PMA, United and Western Growers… also past chairman of the Grower-Shipper Association… My question is to all members of all associations: Who is doing what you want????? We need to answer questions with “ONE VOICE”….

I feel we did not do this as an industry…We need to fix this…

— John R. Baillie

This letter brings us back full circle. Our discussion of this issue started with PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds, which was motivated by the Pundit having his ear chewed off at the PMA convention in San Diego by industry leaders who felt that the recent spinach crisis demonstrated a need for a more unified industry association structure.

We then published Pundit’s Mailbag — Should PMA and United Merge, in which Harris Cutler of Race-West Corporation, Richard Kaiser of the Richard Kaiser Company and Bob Davis of Maine Farmers Exchange all weighed in on the question.

A thorough and thoughtful letter then came from John McClung of the Texas Produce Association, which we discussed in PMA/United Merger-Mention Stirs Emotions. John, who used to run government relations at United, blasted the Pundit for expecting too much of a government relations effort.

In Pundit’s Mailbag — More On PMA/United Merger, we heard from Chuck Zambito of Zambito Produce Sales and Jerry Van Solkema of Van Solkema Produce, Inc. and Lorri Koster of Mann Packing Company.

Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds was up next, and Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh, expressed his confidence in the ability of the boards of United and PMA to do the right thing.

The feedback basically said that the industry would like one association to speak with one voice and avoid duplication of expense in maintaining two organizations but also that the industry did feel that the D.C. and scientific presence of United was important as was the maintenance of a distinctive voice for growers.

It also noted certain valuable United programs, such as the Leadership Class. The Pundit tried to sketch out how a merger could happen and maintain these values and attributes in PMA/United Merger Dilemma: A Two-Track Proposal.

Jim Allen, President/CEO of the New York Apple Association weighed in on the subject with a thoughtful letter contrasting the marketing efforts of PMA with the policy issues that United dealt with. The Pundit wondered if this division of labor was actually sustainable. We wrote of all this in Pundit’s Mailbag — More on PMA/United Merger.

So now, how do we as an industry respond to John’s letter?

Well just this week, FMI, the supermarket industry association, long located in the District of Columbia, decided to relocate to Arlington, Virginia. The move was motivated by a desire to reduce costs. FMI will maintain a small office near Capitol Hill for its government relations staff.

This model of a small government relations office on the Hill and a large association office outside the District for most functions could serve as a model for a newly merged PMA and United.

Much like John, my family goes back with United a long way, even to one of the associations that long ago merged into United. This is a proud legacy and one the industry will always own.

The question, though, is really about the future, not the past.

WE HAVE REPRESENTATION ISSUES: How do we make sure growers have a voice, especially growers from regions without strong regional associations?

WE HAVE REDUNDANCY ISSUES: How do we avoid waste and duplication, without running the cost of constant consultation between different organizations?

WE HAVE FINANCIAL ISSUES: How can we sustain remunerative marketing activities in one association and expensive scientific, technical and government relations activities in another?

John’s “one voice” plea is echoing around the industry. How do we make that happen? That is the question.

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