"Produce fruit in a more environmentally friendly way."
Chavez, a grower, nursery operator, and professor in Chihuahua, Mexico, said consumers are looking for safer foods in general and are worried about negative impacts that the use of pesticides might have on their health.
He does not think growers need to switch to organic production, but he does think growers should use safer pesticides because some of the traditional ones, such as parathion, leave long-lasting residues. New pesticides are more selective, and the residues are less dangerous, Chavez said.
"I think the companies that develop the molecules for the pesticides play a very important role in the future of agriculture in general. I think the consumers are asking for them. They are going to demand that."
For Chihuahua growers, another challenge will be to continue to produce the high-quality fruit that the market demands, despite global warming trends. Warmer temperatures will increase their difficulties in terms of having adequate chilling hours and water for irrigation.
"That's going to be a big challenge," Chavez said.
"Competing against snacks and beverages."
Durham, who is managing director of Apple and Pear Australia Limited, believes the industry's greatest challenge is to maintain its position in the marketplace in the face of increasing pressure from a whole range of value-added manufactured goods that have consistent quality and strong promotions.
"It doesn't matter if you're in Australia, the UK, USA, or Canada, all countries with a high standard of living need to eat more fruit and veg," he said. "We really have to rise and meet that challenge and not lose our space in the marketplace. We have fantastic products, and that really is our strength."
"Finding enough hands to harvest."
Mathison, a Wenatchee, Washington, cherry grower, said he's worried about not having enough pickers to harvest his cherries. "I think we're going to have enough mouths to eat them, but I don't know if we're going to have enough hands to pick them," he said. "We have to look at technology to help people become more efficient and realize those hands are going to cost us more money. We're going to need to do everything we can to make those hands more efficient."
"The successful transition of family businesses to future generations."
The heart of the global fruit business still lies in family businesses, said Paynter, who is executive chair of Yummy Fruit Company Ltd., but the challenge will be to ensure their transition to future generations. "The future lies with family businesses, and for family businesses succession planning is critical," he said.
The average age of New Zealand growers is about 55, Paynter noted. "We're all passionate horticulturists and growers, and we love fussing around and finding new varieties and rootstocks, but at the end of the day, the key operative word is viability."
Paynter believes family businesses have advantages over corporate firms. Family businesses can execute their vision and stick through hard times without having to be accountable to shareholders.
He recalled that several decades ago, the California apple industry had large-scale orchard operations that adopted new varieties as soon as they were available. They produced fruit in a large-scale, factory-type setting for the 300-million consumer base in the United States and employed good horticulturists. Everything looked perfect, but in the past few years, the industry has struggled financially.
"There are one or two individuals blazing a trail of incredible progress," he said. "Ironically, they were small people 30 years ago when I first went there. What are the key things that are making those people successful while others struggle? The key is in vision and execution. Family businesses are better at that than the corporate businesses."
"Introducing new varieties."
Although consumers are always looking for something new, it can be a challenge to introduce new varieties into the market because it costs money to promote them. Competing products, such as manufactured snacks, are backed up by huge promotional budgets far beyond what the tree fruit industry is able to spend.
And yet, the introduction of new varieties is critical to growers, said Kelowna, British Columbia, tree fruit grower Jamie Kidston, because returns have always been better on new varieties. "We can't survive as Red Delicious growers or Granny Smith growers. We have to have those higher-value varieties."
Managed varieties generate funds, often through production assessments, to pay for variety marketing. However, to introduce a variety successfully, the marketing funds are needed up front, and if they're based on production they're not available at the time when they're needed the most, Kidston said.
"Meeting consumers' expectations."
Sanders, an orchardist in Victoria, said the industry must deliver a consistent, high-quality product to consumers. "If we don't meet their expectations every day, we won't be in business," he said. "We have to meet or exceed their expectation on every apple we produce."
Apples are a variable product—they're not machine made—but Sanders thinks the change to modern, high-density plantings will enable growers to make a good eating experience more repeatable. Fruit quality should be less variable.
Consumers have greater and greater expectations every day, he noted. "As they become more affluent, their expectations of perfect fruit are increasing. The difficulty is that what we think they expect is different from what they expect."
Sanders said the fruit industry delivers low-sugar, soft, mealy apples as well as fruit that's been harvested too early in order to gain a marketing advantage. This has a negative impact on return sales and prices, and affects the entire industry.
"Nobody's thinking about the consumer," Sanders said. "They're thinking of themselves."
"Stay in production and make a good living."
Every grower dreams of having a good income and making money from what he's invested in the orchard, said Hermanowicz, an orchardist in Mogielnica.
Poland is a big apple producer, but is going through a major transition to new varieties, new technologies, and new markets. "I think there's a big future for us," he said.
Traditionally, Poland has produced apples for Russia and the former Russian republics, and half of the 2 million metric tons of apples it produces have been processed. But after it joined the European Union in 2004, opportunities opened up in Western countries. To take advantage of those markets, Polish growers are switching from their traditional varieties of McIntosh, Spartan and Cortland, and replanting with newer varieties such as Jonagold, Gala, and Elstar, using high-density systems.
"Do the job right and produce the best quality possible."
This begins with choosing the best variety for the orchard location and designing the orchard well, said Frias, an agronomist and consultant.
"I think apples—except for some special varieties—are like commodities only," he said.
"You need good production, and early production, and in that situation, the growers can make enough money to pay the investment."
Typically, Chilean growers recover their investment in years eight to ten, or even later if they lose a crop because of hail damage. Growers need to understand the importance of buying the best quality nursery trees available so they can have earlier cropping and returns, Frias said.
As the Chilean apple industry focuses on improving quality, the production areas are shifting further south to cooler areas where apples color better and have better storage capacity. The range of varieties is being narrowed down to those that perform the best.