The theme of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s (WSTFA) 2020 Annual Meeting is “Agriculture is Essential for a Fruitful Future.” This past tumultuous year has served as a reminder to all Americans of the truth of this statement, but it has also been a reminder to our industry that “essential” does not mean “easy.”
Here at WSTFA, we have sought to lessen these burdens on our members in keeping with our mission to enhance the value of all segments of the tree fruit industry through education and training, statistical reporting and advocacy on state and local government issues.
Even before the pandemic, we were all well aware of the impact that government actions can have on our industry, which is why advocacy plays such an important part in WSTFA’s activities. Fortunately, most of the 2020 legislative session in Olympia was completed before the impacts of COVID-19 were widely felt.
Despite a challenging political environment, we were able to achieve some important outcomes, including the modification of a bill that would have banned the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos to instead focus on support for alternatives and rulemaking to ensure safe use. Even this modified bill was, in the end, vetoed by the governor due to budgetary concerns caused by the pandemic.
As the coronavirus spread and governments struggled to respond, WSTFA was actively engaged in efforts to support the industry on multiple fronts: We gathered information on developing issues and provided updates to the industry; entered into dialogue with state agencies and the governor’s office to try to ensure that protective measures did not interrupt the food supply; pushed back against excessive and unworkable proposals such as a ban on bunk beds in housing, including intervening on behalf of industry in the unions’ lawsuit against the state; acted as a public relations advocate for industry in responding to contentious safety and labor allegations with details on our members’ proactive responses to safeguard their employees; and provided logistical support in cooperation with the state to distribute critically needed supplies of sanitizer and masks to farms.
WSTFA also moved quickly to modify our ongoing training and education programs to replace classroom content with additional training resources such as posters and videos. This included providing a short, free video on proper handwashing technique and 7,500 free employee hygiene and safety posters to our members. The training resources page in the member content of our website contains all the food safety videos WSTFA has produced, recordings of trainings and workshops, and other resources for the industry.
In the coming year, WSTFA will continue to provide you with the information and resources you need through issue updates and training materials and at the annual meeting. The ongoing restrictions on large gatherings have required continued flexibility on our part as we prepare to deliver the 2020 Annual Meeting and NW Hort Expo in an online format Dec. 7–9.
Our goal is to provide you with the same great content and vendor connections that make this event the largest tree fruit event in the country, but in a virtual setting. Since no travel is involved for this virtual event, it is easy to register and attend, even at the last minute, by going to our website: wstfa.org.
In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to stay informed and involved in your industry association. Don’t forget that growers whose fruit is packed by a dues-paying member of WSTFA receive all member benefits at no further cost. If you are not already receiving our Tree Fruit Topics newsletter, emailed all-member updates on developing issues, or any of the statistical reports you are eligible to receive, please contact our office to ensure that you are added to these distribution lists.
Finally, while we are all ready for life to return to normal in 2021, it seems like this will continue to take longer than the two weeks we were originally told in March. With this in mind, we are already making plans to offer more trainings online and in small group formats through the winter months.
We are also looking into doing our annual Tree Fruit Day in Olympia online, as the Washington State Legislature is planning a session that will take place largely through virtual meetings. Watch for more information on this topic, but we do hope that many of you who are not always able to make the trip over the mountains in January will be able to share your experiences and concerns with our lawmakers this year in an online format.
If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it is that there is no substitute for staying informed and staying involved. Your industry associations and events are an important means of reminding our government and the public of what it takes to deliver the food that is essential to us all.
Jon DeVaney is president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-452-8555.
—by Jon DeVaney