Members of the two major trade organizations representing the fertilizer and pesticide industries in the West's $33 billion agricultural industry have overwhelmingly agreed to merge.

After Jan. 1 the California Fertilizer Association (CFA) and the Western Crop Protection Association (WCPA) will join together as the California Plant Health Association with CFA's longtime executive vice president Steve Beckley as president of CPHA and Steve Forsberg, president and CEO of WCPA as CPHA senior vice president for crop protection issues.

The two staffs will remain in tract in CPHA's new Sacramento office.

A 28-member board of directors representing the old CFA and WCPA and co-chairmen Lou Astbury of Hydro Agri and John Guthrie of Dow AgroSciences will oversee the combining of the two organization until CPHA holds its first annual meeting next fall in the Coachella Valley where a new slate of directors and a chairman will be elected.

The organization will represent the majority of the fertilizer and pesticide industries in California, Arizona and Hawaii. WCPA has for the past 10 years also represented or worked closely with the pesticide industries in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming under a working group called Western Regional Alliance.

CPHA will not represent those areas, but approximately 10 percent of WCPA's reserves will be directed to WRA.

John Salmonson, president of Monterey Chemical Co. in Fresno and immediate past president of WCPA, was the driving force behind the merger which was approved by more than 95 percent of the voting members of both CFA and WCPA.

Salmonson, who is also a past CFA president, said 75 percent of the fertilizer and pesticide dealers in the three states belong to both organizations.

Eliminate duplication "By merging the two organizations, we can eliminate the duplication of our efforts," said Salmonson. "We have all seen the mergers going on in both industries and California Plant Health Association is basically part of that."

Besides eliminating duplications, Salmonson said combining the two PACs that how exist within WCPA and CFA will also give the fertilizer and pesticide industries more influence in the political arena.

"I don't expect this merger to have any major impact on producers, other than to give agriculture more clout in the regulatory arena with issues that affect producers - like heavy metals and in pesticide registration and use," he added.

CPHA will operate with a $1.1 million budget its first year.

The idea of merging CFA and WCPA is not new. It dates back to the 1980s. It drew closer to reality with the shrinking number of business in both industries from the retail to the manufacturing.

The basic goal of the new organization, according to Salmonson, is to develop "one bigger, better organization that meets the needs of fertilizer and crop protection manufacturers, retailer who handle their products and the agricultural industry as a whole."

While the membership crossover is large, there are differences between CFA and WCPA. The fertilizer group is considered a "dealer-driven" association while WCPA is viewed as a "manufacturer-driven" organization. This difference has been the biggest hurdle to overcome since the merger was proposed a year ago and will be a focal point over the next year in defining the mission of the new organization.

Backers of the merger, however, said there are more common issue areas than differences. Changes in the regulatory, political and public perception arenas continue to increase. Under one organization, the needs of both WCPA and CFA would be better met, according to Salmonson.