The first week of December culminates months of work by the Washington State Horticultural Association’s Planning Committee to develop the direction and topics of the annual convention.

Developing the three-day educational meeting requires a great deal of forecasting by the members of the Planning Committee to anticipate events and issues in order to keep the sessions and specific topics relevant, meaningful, and valuable. This is one meeting that covers the landscape of critical topics confronting the tree fruit industry.

It starts with the theme of this year’s meeting: “Cents and Sensibility: Sustainable Business Practices.” The committee landed on “Sustainable Business Practices” as a result of the growing enthusiasm with the concept and practices associated with the environmental sustainability movement that is now cutting across diverse industry sectors.

During the past year, a number of the world’s largest and most successful manufacturers and retailers announced new initiatives aimed at meeting certain voluntary sustainability or “green” standards. The WSHA Planning Committee took the concept one step further, recognizing that sustainable practices must also meet one basic business principle: profitability. So the Planning Committee melded the two terms to highlight the importance of environmental issues with the practical necessity that sustainability must also be profitable. The challenges and opportunities associated with sustainability and profitability are central tenets to this year’s program.

The meeting kicks off with a Batjer Address from one of the nation’s leading “forecast” organizations, Institute for the Future. Jason Tester, a leading researcher with IFTF, will initiate the meeting with an eye-opening discussion supported in part by a massive consumer preference survey on consumers’ changing behaviors and attitudes toward sustainability. Using this information and other IFTF work, Tester will highlight some unexpected trends and shifts that could reshape how we think about tree fruit and agriculture. Some of these changes, according to IFTF, might lead to new kinds of competitors and new business practices in the coming decades. Later that morning, we will have a tree fruit panel of research experts and industry leaders discuss the impact of trends and technology on the industry. Is the industry positioned to capture and benefit from these coming changes?

Labor shortage

No issue this year captured the industry’s attention in such dramatic fashion as the labor shortage. It appears the industry, with the help of Mother Nature, dodged a bullet due to some serious crop-reducing weather events in cherries, pears, and apples. Still, the labor supply was stretched to its limit with shortages reported at varying levels in every production area throughout the harvest season. What tools are available to assist the industry next year to address a labor shortage? This session will begin with a review of the available tools to producers to improve the labor situation, including the politics associated with working under the H-2A guest-worker system. This session will also include an analysis and update on the congressional efforts to reform the guest-worker program. Continuing our commitment to keep profitability at the forefront of this meeting, we’ll evaluate the economics or costs of the labor crisis, given that growers were forced in a tight labor market to adjust their wage rates in order to retain and attract labor.

Codling moth, of course

One topic has dominated annual meetings from the earliest days: battling and managing codling moth. This year, we will look at the future of crop protection in tree fruits without organophosphate insecticides. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new restrictions and a likely phase-out of Guthion (azinphos-methyl) by 2012, which makes the timing of this session so important. Led by Washington State University entomologist Dr. Jay Brunner, the session will take a look at the future of pest control—the alternatives and advances in controlling pests in tree fruit. The session will include a discussion about the economics of pest manage- ment, thoroughly reviewing the costs associated with using new materials.

The meeting, scheduled for December 4-6 at the Yakima Convention Center, will cover more interesting and timely topics than we have space to describe in-depth. Key sessions include:

• Organics and organic marketing

• The latest developments impacting pears and cherries

• Sustaining profits in specialty crops

• How consumers define quality traits in tree fruit products

• Orchards of the future, the sequel

• Automating orchards and orchard tasks

In addition, the convention features a full-day Spanish Language Session on Tuesday, the Postharvest Conference on Wednesday, and the Trade Show Monday and Tuesday at the Yakima SunDome.

This is one event you can’t afford to miss. The program is designed to help you maintain that competitive edge needed in today’s global marketplace. As the theme implies, these times require cents and sensibilities.

We hope to see you in Yakima.