Over the course of a six-decade career spanning research assistant, fieldman, horticulturist, and grower, Fred Valentine has accumulated—and dispensed—a wealth of information.
Valentine was never shy about speaking his mind if he thought it would help Washington’s tree fruit growers.
“Fred’s always been a vocal advocate to bring issues to the table to get them resolved,” said Tom Auvil, research horticulturist with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.
“Those kinds of things have to be kept in the forefront of the industry, and it takes a lot of guts to speak up,” Auvil said.
“One thing about Fred is he calls a spade a spade,” said Pete Van Well Sr. at Van Well Nursery, where Valentine worked until his recent retirement.
“If he was talking to a grower and he didn’t like the way he was doing something, he would tell them, and the grower liked that. I don’t think I ever met anybody who didn’t like Fred.”
Bob Gix, who worked for many years with Valentine as a horticulturist at Blue Star Growers, said Valentine always had the interests of the growers in mind.
When growers were upset with food safety regulations, Fred was upset about food safety, Gix recalled. When growers thought the market was oversupplied, he tried to come up with a way to divert the lower grades and sizes.
Though known for his outspokenness, Valentine is an incredibly good listener, said Cashmere orchardist Randy Smith, who regards him as a mentor.
There were many times when Valentine would sit at the coffee shop listening to people bouncing all kinds of questions and ideas around. They would ask his opinion, but he let them keep talking until they came up with their own answers.
“He really liked to pull the most out of people,” Smith said.
Besides being knowledgeable about all the details of growing fruit, Valentine never lost sight of the big picture, Smith said. “While he was looking at the insects, and the trees, and the problems of the here and now, he really had an uncanny ability to step back and look at the big picture at the same time, and I think that’s not a trait that’s common.
“For many years, he was absolutely the go-to guy for anything to do with pears,” Smith said. “He was Mr. Pear for so many years.”
Less well known is the encouragement Valentine gave to young people in the Wenatchee Valley that persuaded them to train as horticulturists and join the tree fruit industry, Smith said.
“There was a large cadre of WSU-educated fieldmen who came out of Cashmere, and a huge part of that was the mentoring that Fred and others provided to give those guys a peek at how they could be of service to the industry in a way that they would never have imagined just growing up on the farm,” Smith said. “He took a lot of young people under his wing.”
One of those people was Cashmere grower and horticulturist Ray Schmitten. While working at Blue Star Growers, Cashmere, Valentine was the fieldman for Schmitten’s family, who had a small orchard. Ray went to WSU planning to go into forestry but Valentine suggested he look a little closer at the tree fruit program.
“He said, ‘There’s lots of jobs there and I’m sure you’d have a job when you graduate.’” Schmitten recalled. So he took Valentine’s advice.
“I think Fred, behind the scenes, made sure the industry supported me, and he actually made some phone calls when I got out, and lo and behold I got a job in the industry. It was due to him that I ended up employed right away.”
For his first few years in the industry, Schmitten spent a lot of time learning the ropes from Valentine. “And I’ve been depending on him ever since,” he said. “Any time I had an issue with apple or pear, I would usually go to Fred first. He was always free with his information. It could be horticulture, it could be variety, it could be pest management, it didn’t really matter. He was involved in all of it.”
Janie Countryman, research assistant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Wenatchee, also benefited from Valentine’s intervention. In the 1990s, when he was chair of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, he stepped in to make sure her position wasn’t eliminated for lack of funding. “I owe everything to him,” she said.
Jerry Kenoyer, retired manager of Blue Star Growers, who worked with Valentine for 30 years, said Valentine was a good friend and a very good employee. “And, frankly, he was pretty close to being self-employed. My philosophy is to hire good people and leave them to do their jobs, and he was one who could do that.
“Fred was outspoken, but he had the growers at heart,” Kenoyer added. “If he thought he was right, there was no backing down.”
An example of Valentine’s impact comes from Fred Smith, retired manager of Wilbur-Ellis Company in Cashmere. Smith said growers are still benefiting today from research that Dr. Tom Raese, USDA plant physiologist, did on the pear disorders alfalfa greening and corkspot.
Valentine ensured that Raese had the industry cooperation he needed to do his orchard trials for that research, which showed that the disorders could be controlled by foliar calcium applications. This significantly improved packouts and grower returns.
Valentine is still speaking out for the pear industry. Recently, during a Tree Fruit Research Commission pear research review, he made an impassioned plea for more research on pear pest management. For several years, Washington State University has had no entomologist dedicated to pear pests.
“We’re so close to losing this pear industry that it’s very frightening,” he told the commissioners. “If you drive up and down the Wenatchee Valley you’ll observe the fact that we’re not controlling pear psylla. Trees are black from pear psylla honeydew.”
IPM in pears has been less successful than in apples because of pears’ sensitivity to mites and because of the repeated pesticide applications growers have to make to control pear psylla. Valentine also went twice to WSU’s main Pullman campus to appeal to administrators for help, but to no avail so far.
“He’s still insulting people—I think that’s the right word—trying to make people realize we have a very, very serious problem as far as our pest control program on pears,” Fred Smith said.
“We’re paying the price for that lack of entomology right now,” commented Randy Smith, who agrees with Valentine that research ought to help with problems growers are currently facing as well as future needs. “I think Fred had a lot of wisdom in that.”
Though a strong supporter of WSU’s apple breeding program, Valentine has also expressed frustration about how WSU “botched” the release of its first two varieties by failing to name WA 2 and devising a complicated royalty system for WA 38.
Despite his willingness to take a stand, Valentine has rarely made enemies.
Schmitten said if Valentine had a strong opinion on anything, it was well thought out and it was not just his opinion. He was speaking for the majority—whoever he was representing. “He’ll spend a lot of time listening before he gives his opinion. Almost always, when he speaks, he’s speaking not just for Fred, but for a group.”
“He’s always had an outgoing manner, and a smile, and a shake of the hand, and an interest in what was happening in your life and with your family,” Auvil said. “And he never made a controversial issue an issue. It was always people first.” •