Steve Largent does not pretend to know the intricacies of Washington’s tree fruit industry.
But the retired National Football League star and former U.S. congressman has seen his share of the teamwork, leadership and humility critical to any endeavor.
“Key ingredients no matter what you’re growing or selling,” Largent said in a brief late-October phone call with Good Fruit Grower.
Those are his talking points for his keynote address at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association Annual Meeting, to be delivered during a lunchtime presentation Dec. 5, the conference’s opening day, at the Wenatchee Convention Center.
Like the organizers of the meeting, the Seattle Seahawks Hall of Fame receiver sees a lot of parallels between the fruit association and the NFL, one of the most successful sports brands on the planet. Both have teams, or companies, that compete intensely against each other, which makes the final product better for everyone in the end. Football teams, 32 of them now, duke it out week to week, but the NFL always wins.
“At the end of the day, it was producing a better product on the field, and that’s what people came to see,” said Largent, known during his 14-year career more for meticulous route running and preparation than for natural athletic abilities.
Humility and leadership go hand in hand, he said — another lesson he plans to share from his football days. Good leaders, which he has been told the fruit industry has, are strong and effective but not driven by ego. He played with many such teammates who were skilled and outspoken but always willing to work as hard or harder than they expected of others.
Largent, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1994–2002 as a Republican in his home state of Oklahoma, also shared some thoughts on the current Congress.
Other than a few on certain committees, Largent is not convinced lawmakers understand the pressures farmers face, especially when it comes to rising prices of fuel and fertilizer. He owns a farm with about 640 acres of soybeans, winter wheat and cattle in Oklahoma, which experienced a drought this year.
“There is a real need that that message is being heard and responded to,” he said.
Also planned for the Annual Meeting’s first day is the Batjer Address, considered the academic highlight of the gathering.
Karen Lewis, a longtime Washington State University tree fruit extension specialist, also plans to discuss teamwork, matching the conference’s theme, Stronger Together.
“Working together, we have solved challenges and addressed needs in the past, and we will solve challenges and address needs in the future,” she said.
—by Ross Courtney