Keeping Pace with Change
The success of Washington's tree fruit industry is intertwined to some degree with the Washington State Horticultural Association's annual meeting. The tree fruit industry's flagship educational conference has evolved with the state's tree fruit industry. Over the decades, the annual meeting has pinpointed practices, trends, and issues to ensure that producers, packers, and marketers were prepared and in a position to profit.
Hort Association President Irvin Woods highlighted this point at the 1961 annual meeting when he stated, "The technical presentations that we have enjoyed at our meetings down through the years have been unexcelled, and the practical assistance gained from them invaluable."
Pick up any annual meeting proceeding and you are viewing a snapshot of the industry's most anticipated opportunities and pressing challenges at that point in time. Consider this list of possible annual meeting topics from the minutes of a 1963 board meeting: labor, food safety, pesticide residues, orchard plantings, and orchard management. It's interesting to note that many of these topics will be the focus of sessions at the 2007 annual meeting.
A.C. Rich, Hort Association president in 1958, made a similar observation in opening the annual meeting then by stating, "Some of these subjects may have become monotonous to many of you growers, but most of them are still with us… We must progress with progress; if we, as an industry, stand still, we are a dead industry."
Washington's tree fruit industry rarely stands still. It can't afford to be content. A highly competitive marketplace, along with pressures from nonmarket forces, requires constant change and adaptation. Most of the success of the tree fruit industry stems from the genetic make-up of the people involved—an entrepreneurial spirit, a competitive drive, and a gambler's mentality
for risk runs through the veins of the industry. These characteristics have helped fuel the growth and success of what is a very independent industry.
At the same time, some of the tree fruit industry's success rests with the evolution of the annual meeting content, keeping pace with changes in research, technology, public perception, government regulation, and market strategies. The meeting continues to provide owner-operators, managers, and front-line personnel with timely and relevant information to improve the decision-making process. The conference provides solid information that when applied properly can improve business and horticultural practices, and ultimately help shift bottom-line profitability.
Relevancy is a critical component to the success of the annual meeting. A key ingredient that has contributed to sustaining the conference over this long stretch is really the people. The industry is fortunate to have a broad, diverse group of professionals and experts willing to donate their time and experiences to the planning and execution of the meeting. The list of participants includes: producers, growers-shippers, field horticulturists, researchers, marketers, and county extension staff. Their opinions and expertise shape the meeting content and information presented at the conference.
Currently the industry is experiencing a renewed position of strength due to a number of factors, from orchard and packing practices to economic and market conditions. Strong movement and solid prices are leading to better returns. Hopefully, some of the current success can be traced to information discussed at recent conferences. However, there is little time to rest. The industry faces a number of challenges that threaten its profitability.
Labor supply and the lack of a workable guest-worker system may indeed turn out to be a limiting economic factor for tree fruit and other industries as well. Though the stakes are high, this industry has a historic record of developing and delivering answers to pressing problems. The Hort Association's annual meeting, as always, provides a valuable venue for the industry to present options, discuss strategies, and identify possible pathways for growth and success.