“Change is in the wind,” an article in the Good Fruit Grower declared in 1987, which was a year of milestones for the Washington tree fruit industry.

The industry harvested record apple and pear crops that year. The apple crop came in at 68 million boxes of apples, a leap of almost 25 percent from 1986. Red Delicious made up 73 percent of the crop, and the quality was “not vintage,” according to Good Fruit Grower reports.

Of the 161,000 acres of apples in the ground in Washington State, 75 percent were Red Delicious, the Tree Fruit Survey of 1986 showed, followed by Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, and Winesap. Okanogan was the state’s second-largest apple producing county after Yakima. More than half the apple orchards in the state were planted with fewer than 200 trees per acre.

The Washington Apple Commission advised growers not to use Alar on the 1987 crop, because of negative publicity about the product. Fearing there would be inadequate workers to pick the record crop, the commission advertised for migrant workers and ended up in court.

The commission, which celebrated its 50th anniversary that year, moved into new headquarters built at a cost of $1.3 million, and hired McCann Erickson as its advertising agency.

Fruit Testers

Retired Washington State University Extension agent Jim Ballard had founded the Pacific Northwest Fruit Tester’s Association the previous year in an attempt to address what was seen as an overabundance of Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples. He listed Akane, Gala, Royal Gala, Jonagold, Criterion, Fuji, and Earligold as “front burner” apples. Braeburn was touted as one of the great new apples of the world. Bob Stebbins, at Oregon State University, wrote about Gala, a new early maturing apple variety.

Jonagold plantings were increasing in British Columbia, Canada, and there were fears that California would plant great acreages of the new variety called Fuji.

The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission spent $823,840 that year on research projects. The biggest single allocation went to WSU horticulturist Dr. Bruce Barritt for research on high-density apple orchard management.

Research Commission Manager George Ing was lobbying the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build a research laboratory in Yakima. The Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre opened at Summerland, British Columbia. At WSU, Dr. Ken Olsen was researching low-oxygen controlled-atmosphere storage.

Microsprinklers were coming into use. Automated irrigation had been developed but was not available commercially. There were worries about water availability for the following year.

Cherry growers harvested a record crop. Rainier was gaining recognition as a specialty variety. The assessment on Washington apricots increased from $5 to $10 a ton, to better compete with California.

Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee marked its 50th anniversary in 1987 by inviting industry leaders to predict what would be in store during the 50 years ahead.

As the 1987 article, “Fruit industry’s future seen as changing significantly,” illustrates, the speakers showed great foresight but tended to underestimate the rate of change.

As we approach the next decade, we have devoted this issue of the Good Fruit Grower to exploring the changes we can expect to see within the ten years to come.