Bad economy may increase attendance at conference

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Profits weigh heavily on the minds of tree fruit growers as the 105th annual meeting of the Washington State Horticultural Association approaches, Dec. 7-9 in Wenatchee.

Close to 600 people had signed up for the conference by Nov. 13, which prompted association Executive Director Bruce Grim to say attendance may hit 1,100 or 1,400. That may be up from a few years ago and would show growers are more interested in help when times are tough, he said.

Attendance is largely Washington growers, but some come from Oregon and Idaho and places beyond. The association bills the meeting as the largest gathering of orchardists, shippers, suppliers and vendors in the nation. Many researchers speak as well.

"Dismal returns for growers" from the 2009 cherry crop on the heels of poor returns from a record volume 2008 apple crop left growers "with a couple of toughies," Grim said.

A smaller, 102.4 million box 2009 apple crop is a positive, but there are still worries about the national economy and how it impacts sales, he said.

Whether the federal government's effort to stimulate the economy has worked is in doubt, he said. Growers are concerned but may not be as concerned as they were in 2000 and 2001 after three years of poor returns.

That situation was caused by a lack of diversity in varieties, and the industry not being as adept as it is now in marketing large crops, Grim said.

With greater varietal diversity, mainly more Gala apples, the industry is better positioned to deal with a tough economy, Grim said.

"It's easier to market a large crop of what consumers want," he said. "The problem with the 2008 crops was that there was just too much small fruit that the market doesn't highly demand. So we moved a lot of it to export."

At the meeting's opening session, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will give a national view of ag issues. Ed Seifried, professor of economics and business at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., will talk on how the new economy affects agriculture.

"Ed spoke last year. He was so well received that people wanted him back," Grim said. "He pretty accurately predicted what would take place."

Other addresses and sessions include: food safety, grower resiliency, what sustainability looks like, tools and technology, organics, what's next with cherries, and training sessions on GRAS2P, a state Department of Agriculture-backed industry effort for audit readiness, food safety operating practices, sustainability and environmentally sound practices.

Washington state House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, will talk about "Olympia's Horticultural Landscape for 2010" during a leadership luncheon.

Online

Washington State Horticultural Association: www.wahort.org

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