As incoming president of the Washington State Horticultural Association, Jeff Cleveringa hopes to strengthen the association’s role in keeping growers informed.
For over a century, the association has held its annual meeting each December to apprise growers on the latest issues and research. Cleveringa said the meeting still serves an important purpose, particularly for growers who are too busy during the growing season to attend field days and tours.
“Dissemination of information will be key, and I’m hoping to make that better and more timely in the Hort Association,” he said.
Cleveringa, 43, grew up on a diversified farm in Prosser and earned a bachelor’s degree in plant sciences from Dordt College in Iowa. He worked as a horticulturist for Simplot from 1994 to 1996, then joined Custom Fruit Packers (Starr Ranch Growers) in Quincy, Washington. During that time he served as president of the Columbia Basin Tree Fruit Society.
In 2003, he began working with Cave B at George, Washington, as a horticulturist and viticulturist. In 2007, he helped found Picker Technologies, a company aiming to develop automated equipment for apple harvesting. This project is ongoing.
Last year, he returned to work for Custom Fruit Packers as head of research and development, a job that takes him around the world to evaluate the latest orchard and packing house technology, as well as new orchard systems and apple and cherry varieties.
Cleveringa said Dalton Thomas and his sons Jim and Brad, who operate Custom Fruit Packers, want to be early adopters of technology as it becomes available. His role is to keep them informed about technology that could be useful, whether in the orchard or packing house. Not all technology lives up to its billing, he noted.
Cleveringa joined the Hort Association board three years ago and was elected second vice president the following year. He is the third in a trio of relatively young presidents. West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers, Inc., was president two years ago at the age of 34. Outgoing president David Douglas of Douglas Fruit Company is 38.
Cleveringa said that, as a horticulturist, he hopes to focus on grower issues and would like to see the Hort Association make use of new media, including e-newsletters, to keep the industry updated.
“I would love there to be one great source of information through modern media,” he said. “I would like that process to start so we have places for people to interact with each other so growers can see where insect outbreaks are occurring, for example, and what other growers are doing.”
Cleveringa has served on the Good Fruit Grower Advisory Board. He is a member of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission Technology Committee and a board member of the International Fruit Tree Association.