Mike Willett is on the phone providing background on a pest of possible quarantine concern to U.S. Department of Agriculture negotiators in Washington, D.C. These government officials with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services are working with the Northwest Horticultural Council to re-open an export market in Asia.
Meanwhile, Mark Powers is writing a report to industry on his travel to Russia to investigate a transportation bottleneck at the Port of St. Petersburg. Down the hall, Debbie Carter is researching the latest water-testing protocols related to E. coli 0157:H7 for the next meeting of the new Pacific Northwest Food Safety Committee. And, as the 2007 Farm Bill moves through the U.S. Senate’s committee structure, I am in my office on an executive steering committee conference call of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, a two-year collaborative effort of regional and national agricultural groups like ours that is seeking new federal funding for research, nutrition programs, and trade.
The day-by-day routine of our office fluctuates with the rise and fall of issues of importance to our growers and shippers of apples, pears, and cherries. They can come upon us as abruptly as a summer’s hailstorm and be in need of instant attention. For example, if a negative news story hits on a chemical used by pear growers, we give the industry’s side to a skeptical media. Or, issues may string out over several years, such as the Doha Round of international trade negotiations.
The only certainty is that each day brings new issues to our office, given the size of our industry (about $2 billion); the frictions associated with all international agricultural trade (around 30% of our harvest is exported each year); and the sensitive nature of a food crop consumed by children and widely viewed as emblematic both of our nation ("as American as …") and of consumer health (What are you reminded to eat each day to prevent a visit from a medical expert?).
Apart from everyday activity of address–ing specific policy issues, our staff regularly devotes time to communications. We do this through means of presentations at industry meetings and seminars, general media interviews, as well as our own weekly Internet publication ("NHC E-Notes") and an active and open Web site. (At www.nwhort.org, you can find our Export Manual, which we maintain and that provides trade-relevant information on 61 foreign markets for exporters.)
We also devote a good deal of time and travel representing the Pacific Northwest’s tree fruit industry in the many and varied governmental bodies, national trade associations, and industry coalitions that work on some general or specific aspect of commercial agriculture relevant to the livelihoods of our growers and shippers. Members of the NHC’s staff actively serve on such committees or boards as the Government Affairs Council of the United Fresh Produce Association; the board of advisors of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (Washington, D.C.); the U.S. Industry Advisory Group to the North American Plant Protection Organization; and the board of the Washington State China Relations Council.
This year, the Northwest Horticultural Council celebrates its sixtieth anniversary. In 1947, tree-fruit industry leaders in Oregon and Washington were concerned about transportation, mainly the significant shipping costs associated with federally regulated rail traffic to important eastern markets, and wished to work together to become more effective with a united voice. The NHC’s first president, Ernie Falk, led in this effort.
Over the decades, the NHC has broadened its scope of work while adding Idaho to its geographical coverage. In addition to transportation, we now work on a wide range of policy issues, including those touching on export market access, food safety, agricultural chemicals, federal legislation and regulations, farm labor/immigration, biotechnology, and import pest quarantine.
Our budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 was set at just over $1 million by our governing board of nine trustees—currently Bob Price (chairman), Fred Duckwall, Jerry Kenoyer, Ed Kershaw, Rod Laurance, Dan Pariseau, Dar Symms, Mike Wade, and Mark Zirkle.
Funding for our trade association comes from assessments on our members and supporters: the Fresh Pear Committee (Portland), Fruit Growers League (Medford), Hood River Grower-Shipper Association, Idaho Apple Commission, Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission, Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service, Washington Apple Commission, Washington State Fruit Commission, Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association, and the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association. (Due to the size of the apple crop in proportional terms, the Washington Apple Commission is supplying about 43 percent of our 2007-2008 fiscal year’s budget.)
Five are employed at our Yakima office: a president, vice president (Mark Powers), vice president for scientific affairs (Dr. Mike Willett), technical issues manager (Deborah Carter), and an office manager (Cheryl Latendresse).
Our past 60 years have been fruitful. We aim to keep this record of service intact.