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Pundit’s Mailbag —
Profitable Participation

It was back after the PMA convention in San Diego that we first heard demands for a merger of PMA and United, motivated by a sense that the industry needed to present one voice on these food safety issues. We discussed this issue in PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds.

Next we heard commentary from Harris Cutler of Race-West Corporation and from Richard Kaiser of The Richard Kaiser Company as well as from Bob Davis of Maine Farmers Exchange. We put all these thoughts together in Pundit’s Mailbag — Should PMA and United Merge.

In PMA/United Merger-Mention Stirs Emotions we heard the thoughtful voice of John McClung of the Texas Produce Association as he weighed on the subject based on his many years of experience with government relations efforts.

Lorri Koster of Mann Packing Company , Chuck Zambito of Zambito Produce Sales and and Jerry Van Solkema of Van Solkema Produce, Inc all added to our understanding of the issues by contributing to Pundit’s Mailbag — More On PMA/United Merger.

Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of United Fresh Produce Association voiced his confidence in the ability of the boards of the respective associations to make a wise decision for the industry in Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds.

The Pundit tried to analyze a possible format for a merger in PMA/United Merger Dilemma: A TwoItal-Track Proposal.

Then in our Pundit’s Mailbag — More on PMA/United Merger we heard from Jim Allen, President/CEO of the New York Apple Association who compared and contrasted the two associations.

Most recently, we heard from John R. Baillie of Jack T. Baillie Co., Baillie Family Farms and Tri-County Packing whose letter, focusing on effective policy advocacy, we featured in Pundit’s Mailbag — One-Voice Plea On PMA/United Merger Issue.

Today we feature a letter continuing this conversation. This one from Dan’l Mackey Almy. Dan’l has been recognized as a member of the PRODUCE BUSINESS 40 Under Forty and she and the Pundit serve together on the steering committee for the Pack Family/PMA Career Pathways Fund which funds a program to bring college students to the PMA convention and thus introduce them to careers in the produce industry. Dan’l is both astute and diplomatic as her letter reveals:

I have been reading your commentary on the possibility of a merger between PMA and United since you began writing about it. I remember this very subject being a hot topic when I barged my way into the industry in 1995, and as I recollect, this was just the beginning of the Silberman/Stenzel era of leadership At the time, I did not have much of an opinion but clearly remember the debate in the trade publications as well as those happening in our Standard Fruit & Vegetable offices. At the time our company’s leadership was in a transition phase as Marty Rutchik was stepping away from the business and Jay Pack was transitioning into the leadership role. Marty had a very well respected history with United and Jay was beginning his journey with PMA. As this was happening, I never remember a struggle for our company’s commitment to either organization, as we clearly benefited from their two distinct agendas.

As a start-up company in 2004, DMA Solutions’ first expenses included dues to both United and PMA. The dues were steep for my company, but I felt that being a part of both organizations was crucial for the company’s future success. And while DMA Solutions is primarily a marketing and business solutions company, we still gain a tremendous amount from both organizations. That being said, would I rather pay one set of dues and potentially have two less trips a year? SURE!

But not if the associations became so broadly focused that involvement and value becomes sacrificed for member companies of all sizes.

I have been blessed to participate in both organizations throughout my career and I do not feel my dual involvement has diminished the value for my company or slowed the progress for leadership responsibilities in each organization. The struggle between involvement in two similar organizations that love to “compete” with one another for members is not a strange circumstance for me. I was faced with this dilemma when entering high school and was ridiculed by faculty, students and parents for not relinquishing my 4-H membership while joining Future Farmers of America (FFA). My decision — I remained members of both organizations throughout high school and I gained a lot from the varying leadership and interests of both organizations.

  • The likelihood of a merger seems so far from reality at this point, so I would rather the two organizations focus on eliminating duplication, as suggested by many, and further develop their offerings to membership. It would be nice to hear from both associations that this is a priority in 2007.

  • Value from membership in any association is what the member/member company chooses to make of it.

— Dan’l Mackey Almy, DMA Solutions, Inc.
PMA Packing Council — Vice Chairman
United Fresh — Leadership Alumni Board Member

Without a doubt one gets out of these associations what one puts into them. Dan’l is the type of person who joins a coin collecting club and, you turn around, and she is running the mint.

PMA and United, not to mention the dozens of other relevant associations, all offer enough that an engaged person comes away feeling a winner from their involvement.

In fact one of the strongest arguments, in our view, for maintaining multiple organizations is to maintain an outlet for all the talent that wants to be involved.

There are a number of issues that this whole discussion has raised:

  1. How can or should association governance change in the Internet age? As a practical matter board members of these associations are appointed. Yes, technically there are elections but they are rarely contested and the nominees are typically solicited. There really is no mechanism to make sure that these boards represent the will of the membership. Suppose a majority did want a merger? How would it make it happen? Only with great difficulty. One wonders if in an age of instant communication some more representative way shouldn’t be found.
  2. How much information should be shared with membership? The Pundit remembers a day when United used to mail out its financial statements every year to every member as part of its annual report. Without this kind of information, how can the membership make reasonable judgments about what policies are wise to pursue?
  3. How do we educate industry members on what is fluff and what is real? Who deserves credit for achieving things and who is trying to claim credit unjustifiably?

There are many companies and individuals who benefit from communal involvement as in the association world. It is not pre-ordained that one association solves all problems. And even if there was a merger we still have to deal with regional associations and commodity specific groups.

But the recent Buyer-led Food Safety Plan is suggesting that maybe we also need a new organization:

We further call for the formation of a third-party organization modeled on the Center for Produce Quality (and, where appropriate, Beef Industry Food Safety Council(BIFSCO)). The BIFSCO model is compelling because it addresses the entire food supply pipeline, from farm to table, and thus involves growers, processors, shippers, distributors, foodservice operators, and retailers. We acknowledge that food safety is a shared responsibility, both operationally and financially.

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