Sam Godwin, opens the 112th Annual Meeting and Northwest Hort Expo on December 5, 2016, in Wenatchee, Washington.<b> (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)</b>

Sam Godwin, opens the 112th Annual Meeting and Northwest Hort Expo on December 5, 2016, in Wenatchee, Washington. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Speakers hammered away at the theme of “change” to kick off the 112th annual meeting of the Washington tree fruit industry.

Change in a U.S. president. Change in technology. Change in food safety regulations. Change in customer shopping habits.

“Change comes no matter how long we ignore it,” said Sam Godwin, chairman of the annual meeting of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, which runs today through Wednesday in the Wenatchee Convention Center.

Standing room only during the opening panel "Anticipating Changes" in the large conference hall. <b>(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)</b>

A large crowd attends the opening panel “Anticipating Changes” in the conference hall. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Attendees heard about potential changes in international trade agreements under a new U.S. president, shifting food safety expectations, a minimum wage increase and others from a panel of industry association representatives.

Meanwhile, new varieties, growing systems and tools have defined the past 20 years, while phenomics — the study of physical traits in relation to both their genetics and environment — will be a big part of the future, predicted Jim McFerson, director of the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center.

Also, people constantly change the way they shop, said Mike Hulett, senior merchant for fresh food at Wal-Mart, especially millennials, whom he defined as those born between 1981-2000.

They simultaneously value time-saving foods and techniques, transparency and eating “experiences” to share on social media, said the Chelan High School graduate turned Wal-Mart executive.

“The ones that are solving these customers’ needs are going to be the winners,” he said.

The conference continues this afternoon with nearly an entire session devoted to the Cosmic Crisp, the new variety from Washington State University.

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