At almost every turn, the tree fruit industry is facing unprecedented challenges. From extreme weather and over-regulation to labor shortages and rising input costs, growers are struggling to stay afloat. Individually, any one of these pressures can threaten the viability of even the best grower.

When these challenges converge at the same time, the situation can be even more overwhelming. As the saying goes, “Quantity has a quality all its own.” Fortunately, this principle works in both directions. When we work collectively, new solutions become possible, and our industry can beat the odds. 

Jared England
Jared England

The Washington State Tree Fruit Association Annual Meeting and Northwest Hort Expo (Hort Show) is evidence of the value and energy that is built when growers, packers, marketers, researchers and suppliers come together each year. Ideas are shared and spawned. Partnerships are made and strengthened. Problems are explored and steps toward solutions are taken. This year’s theme, “Stronger Together,” emphasizes the importance of individuals from all parts of the industry coming together as a team to ensure that Washington remains the preeminent producer of tree fruit. 

Building on our theme, this year’s show will kick off with an overview of the dynamics of the broader agricultural sector from economist Damian Mason. Many of the challenges we are facing are shared by other farm commodities, and there are lessons to be learned from their successes and failures. 

We will then hear from a keynote speaker who knows something about teamwork, Steve Largent. The Seahawks’ Hall of Fame receiver will share how the National Football League — with its diverse and competitive players, teams and coaches that battle against each other week after week — comes together to create one of the world’s most successful sports franchises. I believe there are many parallels with our own industry, in which fierce competition can actually result in a strong and unified brand and success for all. Largent will also share lessons in competition and cooperation from his time in Congress and as CEO of a technology industry trade association.

Our 2022 Batjer speaker is longtime tree fruit cooperative extension agent and leader Karen Lewis of Washington State University. It is in our research programs that our industry’s collaborative efforts are most robust and long-standing, and Lewis will share her perspectives on past successes, current priorities and future opportunities.

And all of this is just during the morning of the first day! 

Each session will address key topics of interest or concern that are shared across the industry. Moreover, these sessions are focused on ways to strengthen individual producers and our entire industry. This includes horticultural updates to understand problems, new research, products, technology and techniques to solve those problems, or hands-on training so that you and your team can properly implement these solutions. 

Tuesday sessions are also packed with great content. The all-day Spanish-language session on Tuesday will cover everything from horticultural topics to orchard management techniques. The always-popular Research News Flash, formerly known as the poster session, will cover updates from the latest studies by our research community. Wednesday sessions will expand on horticultural updates and training that qualify attendees for pesticide credits. We will also take a deeper dive into workplace standards and programs with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, looking at the impact of recent rule changes on ag operations. 

Vendors in the trade show will also demonstrate the latest products, technology, equipment and services that support efficient and cutting-edge operations. Due to the overwhelming interest in participating in this year’s show, vendor booths will occupy the first floor of the convention center as well as the Town Toyota Center. A free shuttle will provide transportation between the two locations.

During this year’s show, I challenge each grower, each vendor and each packer to create at least one new connection. These personal relationships are not only the foundation of productive business collaborations and partnerships, they are also what ties us all closer together as an industry. It is this network of relationships, even among competitors, that makes collective action possible on the challenges that threaten us all. 

When you consider how interconnected our industry really is, and how our influence is felt across many other industries (i.e. banking, health care, construction, etc.), it becomes apparent that agriculture — and the tree fruit industry in particular — is truly the backbone of our region’s economy. As we seek to help our neighbors understand how our success is their success, this model of competition combined with teamwork can help those who may have been indifferent to our challenges become allies in overcoming them.

I invite and encourage you to join your peers in Wenatchee at this year’s Hort Show. Come see how you can make yourself and this industry stronger. 

by Jared England

Jared England is the general manager for Manson Growers and the chair of the 2022 Washington State Tree Fruit Association Annual Meeting.