Washington’s tree fruit industry gathered for a night of celebration, honors and proclamations Tuesday at the banquet of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association’s Annual Meeting in Wenatchee.
Alternating between sincerity and laughter, awards went to growers and leaders in the deciduous tree fruit industry.
Cliff Plath of Washington Fruit and Produce in Yakima was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award.
Plath grew up on the farm in Yakima, learning from his father, Fred. He earned a degree in business administration from the University of Washington and held management jobs at Independent Fruit in Sunnyside and Washington Fruit before becoming a full-time grower for Washington Fruit.
Plath’s career coincided with increases in acreage and modernization, creating a secure and consistent source of quality fruit. His son, Gilbert Plath, accepted the award on his behalf.
“If he was here, he’d just want to say ‘thank you’ to all the people he has worked with over the years,” Gilbert Plath said.
The Plath family was named the 2018 Good Fruit Growers of the Year.
The Latino Leadership award went to the G.S. Long Co., which held its first Spanish-language event 20 years ago, a session at the annual meeting in Yakima attended by roughly 50 people. The Spanish session now attracts roughly 1,000 people.
Since then, the company has collaborated with other groups to offer trainings for the Federal Worker Protection Standard, the Winter Ag Academy and airblast sprayer calibration and drift management courses.
G.S. Long also produced a bilingual tractor safety video and translates training materials for the National Pesticide Safety Education Center. It is the founding sponsor of the Good Fruit Grower en Español.
Longtime employee Eladio Gonzales accepted the award on behalf of the company. “Education in the workplace is something we believe in,” he said.
Harold Ostenson, an organic tree fruit industry leader for more than 40 years, received the Silver Apple award.
Ostenson holds a master’s degree in social psychology from Pacific Lutheran University and earned a Bronze Star and five Air Medals from the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War.
In 1976, he left the Navy to grow tree fruit near Wenatchee, then received certification for one of the first organic orchards in the Frenchman Hills. He established a dedicated organic packing facility in 1997.
He pioneered the use of fish oil and lime sulfur as an organic apple and cherry bloom thinner, which has become a widespread practice in the United States and South America. Ostenson served for eight years on the Governor’s Organic Advisory Committee.
In 2005, Ostenson left the packing house and took a job at Stemilt Growers as its organic program manager. He retired from Stemilt in 2010 and has been consulting in Washington, California, New Zealand, Argentina and Chile.
Ostenson gave props to the overall industry when accepting the award.
“It’s a job well done by many people in this room,” he said. “I’m glad to be a part of that.”
Leavenworth pear grower Rudy Prey Jr. received the Silver Pear award.
Prey immigrated with his family in 1975 from West Germany to the Wenatchee Valley. One of the first students of Wenatchee Valley College’s tree fruit program, he then worked for a nursery in Oregon and in the New Zealand fruit industry before returning to his family’s orchard, taking over in 1996.
He is known for planting at high densities, keeping trees small without dwarfing rootstocks and generally trying new techniques, a trait he inherited from his father, he said when accepting the award.
“It was always important to him to try new things,” he said.
Dain Craver accepted the 2019 Good Fruit Grower of the Year award.
“I love this industry, and I love what I do,” said the Royal City, Washington grower.
The Washington State Tree Fruit Association announced the creation of a scholarship in the memory of Warren Morgan, who died May 16 this year. Morgan, who founded Double Diamond Fruit in Quincy with his father, Rex, served on numerous industry boards and was a 2004 Good Fruit Grower of the Year.
The Tree Fruit Association has pledged $10,000 to the scholarship fund and is encouraging other industry members to donate.
The Washington Apple Education Foundation also created a new scholarship in the name of executive director Jennifer Witherbee, to honor her 20 years with the organization.
—by Ross Courtney