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David Douglas

President, Washington State Horticultural Association

David Douglas, 37, works for the family growing and packing operation, Douglas Fruit Company, which is located in Pasco, Washington.

Douglas earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s in business administration from the ­University of Washington. He manages the field staff, and is involved in the operations and accounting aspects of the business.

Which two issues would you like to see the Hort Association focus most on in the next five years?

1. Continued collaboration with other industry organizations to ensure that our efforts to inform, educate, and lobby are consistent and carry the most meaningful message possible. There are still many opportunities to create efficiencies and strengthen the effectiveness of all ­organizations.

2. The strength of the annual meeting. With the majority of our funding derived from the annual meeting, it is critical to make sure the meeting is relevant, informative, and worth the time and money individuals and organizations commit to attend.

 What is the biggest driver of change in the tree fruit industry today?

Speed. Change occurs at a much greater pace today than it did even ten years ago. The consumer has an ever- increasing number of options in the produce department and the competition for that shelf space is high. As growers and marketers we have to continually stay out in front with varietal selection and quality. You have to produce maximum yield of a desired variety in the grades and sizes that the consumer wants. If you fail in any one of these areas you have to be willing to reinvest and change or risk failure.

If there is a continuing crackdown on illegal ­immigrants and no immigration reform, how might the U.S. fruit industry adjust?

The industry will shrink and fruit grown in the United States will become very expensive. Production will shift to other countries that have lower labor costs, and we will import a much greater percentage of the fruit that we consume. Growers and shippers that have the capital and appetite for risk will make significant investments in what limited technology is available to automate processes and hope to sell the fruit for high enough prices to pay for that technology.

I am hopeful that there will be a recognition by our legislators that high-intensity agriculture requires: a specific plan in regards to comprehensive immigration reform; a solution today for the experienced trained work force that we currently employ; and an effective guest-worker program that allows us to handle the seasonal labor demands of our industry for the future.

Ed Robinette

President, Michigan State Horticultural Society.

Ed is one of three brothers who own Robinette Orchards, a small apple, peach, and sweet cherry farm in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which was purchased by their great-grandfather in 1911. All the fruit is sold at the farm. They have a cider mill, bakery, winery, and many other activities. Ed serves as president of the family corporation, Robinette’s, Inc.

Which two issues would you like to see the Hort Society focus most on in the next five years?

1. The many changes affecting Michigan State University, the Extension Service, and our experiment stations. The funding for all these institutions has changed drastically, and this has wide ranging effects on our industry.

2. Communications:  We need to embrace new means of communicating with our members, legislators, Extension Service, and university decision makers in order to make our voice louder and have a bigger impact where it’s needed.

What is the biggest driver of change in the tree fruit industry today?

The global market in which we are now competing. Foreign competition, foreign markets, world economic change, and the resulting changes in funding for critical research and marketing support.  Change seems to come faster every year.

If there is a continuing crackdown on illegal immigrants and no immigration reform, how might the U.S. fruit industry adjust?

Unfortunately, as we have seen in some states that have implemented these crackdowns, migrant labor flees the state and leaves crops unharvested and entire industries uncertain of their futures.  The drive for mechanically assisted harvesting of apples as well as advancements in other crops show us some hope for the future with fewer or no migrant labor.  The U.S. fruit industry would need to invest heavily in new machinery to adjust to such change, and would be hard pressed to survive a sudden crackdown on our ­traditional work force.

Tom DeMarree

President, New York State Horticultural Society

Tom has been farming for 35 years. He grows more than 30 fresh and processed apple varieties, as well as peaches, cherries, and plums, on a 200-acre farm in Williamson, New York. He is a member of the International Fruit Tree Association’s Research Committee and past treasurer of the New York Apple ­Association.

Which two issues would you like to see the Horticultural Society focus most on in the next five years?

1. Securing a stable seasonal work force. A very small percentage of the undocumented workforce is working in agriculture, yet agriculture is often the focus of criticism of employers hiring undocumented workers.

2. The public does not understand that each apple variety has a very narrow harvest window and rapidly declines in quality and value when harvested late. Agriculture needs large numbers of people, for very short periods of time, who want to work and can meet the physical demands of the job. The weather does not wait for our government to get its act together nor for the schedules of high-school students, prison guards, retirees or other people only interested in working part time. It would be very costly for agriculture to gear up to manage three to five times the number of people we now use because of lower labor efficiency levels.

What is the biggest driver of change in the tree fruit industry today?

There are two large drivers of change in the tree fruit industry today: new product development (fresh apple slices, exciting crisp new varieties) which are increasing apple consumption/demand, and the lack of a stable labor force capable and willing to do the job as needed.

If there is a continuing crackdown on illegal immigrants and no immigration reform, how might the U.S. fruit industry adjust?

Many growers will first likely downsize their operations and then either leave the United States to farm elsewhere or quit farming all together. There is no sense in investing in or expanding a high-risk industry if there is uncertainty about having the labor you need to produce a high- quality product.