WENATCHEE, Wash. — Jim Bair made his first trip to Washington, the nation’s No. 1 apple producing state, since becoming president of U.S. Apple Association at the start of the year.
Bair was in Yakima April 28 and 29 meeting with industry officials and growers including Columbia Reach, Washington Fruit and Produce Co. and Evans Fruit. During the next two days he visited Stemilt Growers Inc. in Wenatchee and Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan where he also met officials from Gebbers Farms of Brewster. Chris Schlect, president of Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima, was Bair’s tour guide.
“An early objective has been to get out to meet with key industry leaders and do a lot of listening to find out what their priorities are,” Bair told Capital Press.
“I’ve been very impressed by the agricultural community and the entrepreneurial spirit that seems to run through every apple grower’s story — that they started small, planted a few trees and followed a dream,” he said.
Growers talked about the need for immigration reform, the importance of research and the importance of U.S. Apple in defending the industry, Bair said.
Just the prior week, U.S. Apple refuted an environmental group challenging the use of DPA (diphenylamine) to prevent scald on apples in storage, he said. It is not used in Europe but U.S. residues are well within EPA tolerances, he said.
Bair, who spent more than 25 years in the grain industry, said he was impressed by the beauty and magnitude of the apple bloom in Washington that’s indicative of a large fall crop. It underscores the “critical need” for immigration reform to ease labor shortages, he said.
“It will be a challenge to find the labor force to get all the fruit safely into storage,” he said.
He said he enjoyed not only hearing growers’ stories but seeing high-density plantings and hearing about new varieties.
“I find that exciting. It’s not many agricultural industries that are expanding their product lines on an annual basis,” he said. “A heartwarming part of the job I have is that everybody I meet wants to tell me what their favorite apple is. They are passionate about it and that’s terrific.”
U.S. Apple Association in Vienna, Va., represents all segments of the apple industry and 40 state and regional apple associations representing 7,500 growers and more than 400 companies.