[of WSDA’s fruit and vegetable inspection program] Jim Quigley is retiring after about 40 years. We have a [successor], Cameron Crump. She was picked after a competitive review process with industry folks. I’m hoping there will be good continuity there. I want to continue on the base that Dan [Newhouse] and the organization laid here. Sometimes you need to reassess how you’ve been doing things. Sometimes a culture gets built up in different areas of an organization that just aren’t as productive as they should be. Trying to change that culture, this is what’s been going on for the last couple of years in the organization. I want to continue it to better serve the people. Our inspection program is a national leader.
Good Fruit Grower: I understand you have relatives in the tree fruit business. You worked one summer in a cherry orchard. Tell us about that experience.
My uncle Harvey [Jones] owned the orchard. I worked there one summer during the cherry harvest. I realized I probably wouldn’t make it as a cherry grower. [laughs]
The thing that impressed me, there was a family from Kansas. They were true migrant farm workers. They would follow the crops from California up to Washington and back into the southeast. I remember going through the orchard and collecting the buckets and dumping them into bins. Most pickers would have maybe 5, 6, maybe 10 buckets every time we came through. These guys would have 25, maybe 30 buckets. I was amazed to watch them, how they placed their ladders to take full advantage of their position on the tree. From the top of the ladder, they would pick with two hands. It was astounding to me. When people talk about [fruit pickers] as unskilled labor, it’s kind of a misnomer. It’s skilled. It’s just in a different realm…
Good Fruit Grower: International markets are very important to Washington’s apple, pear and cherry growers. What role do you see for yourself and the department in promoting Washington products and resolving technical trade barriers?
I know that Governor Inslee, having represented the 4th District as a congressman and having lived in the Yakima Valley, understands the importance of agriculture to the economy of our state; obviously, 13 percent of the state economy is a pretty big chunk. I know he wants to do everything he can to promote agriculture and move it forward. There are opportunities on the Pacific Rim, where the standards of living are increasing, and I know we want to take advantage of that. The state of Washington has a reputation for quality. The things we produce well here, Boeing aircraft, Microsoft software, Starbucks coffee. The same thing holds true for Washington agriculture—Washington apples, pears, cherries, hops, raspberries, potatoes, wheat, beef. The reason it’s top quality is because we have a set of standards that we meet. We have to make sure the rest of the country, the rest of the world, knows that.
Washington just got pears into China. It’s been a 20-year attempt. That opens a huge market, and we’re the number-one pear-producing state in the United States. We have this [WSDA] international marketing program that helps Washington State. That program seems to be always on the chopping block, but it has an incredible return on the investment, some five-to-one return on that money. There’s no limit to what we can do so long as we continue to provide a top-quality product that everyone knows is safe, and that’s our job: to make sure we’re relaying that to people in all these countries. We have folks in China, Japan, and other countries to help us with that. That’s one of the things I know the governor wants to continue to express to the world, and I want to do that also.
Good Fruit Grower: Growers identify labor as their top concern. The federal government sets immigration laws, but what role will you play as a state official representing agriculture in achieving reforms that will address grower needs?
It is a federal issue, but it’s not one we’re unaware of. It very much affects the state. The H-2A [guest-worker] program is not functioning the way it should. It’s not a well respected program. We have to come up with a way for workers to come into this country legally. We believe in secure borders and following the law, but you’re going to have to address the individuals who are living here. At the same time, we’ve got to have a comprehensive reform. We can’t just provide an amnesty to all and not have some way of having the system fixed so we don’t just repeat this again. It’s critical for us to have that labor force available, and we have to work with the federal government to ensure that happens, and the individuals who are here now are treated with dignity.
Good Fruit Grower: Bonus Question. You played football for the Washington State University Cougars. Will they win this year’s Apple Cup by beating the University of Washington?
[laughs] I got a degree from both schools, but I played for WSU. Always, it’s gotta be the Cougs.