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News / Northwest

Fruit growers talk pests, profitability, new technology

By Jasper Kenzo Sundeen, Yakima Herald-Republic
Published: December 9, 2023, 5:22am

KENNEWICK — Economic pressures and new technology were themes at a gathering of Washington fruit growers this week.

Hundreds of business owners, farmers, managers and other professionals who attended the Northwest Hort Expo and the Washington Tree Fruit Association’s 119th annual meeting at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick to discuss new technologies and techniques.

Topics for presentations included plants and pests, new technologies, agricultural economics and a new apple from Washington State University, WA-64. Spanish-language sessions were well attended, and the conference included information on federal H-2A rule proposals and state Department of Labor and Industries regulations.

One theme, said Jon DeVaney, WSTFA’s executive director, was the economy. Some growers, particularly smaller operations, were concerned about inflation and higher production costs.

“There’s a lot of talk about profitability,” DeVaney said.

It was a very good year

Weather conditions were optimal for this year’s apple crop, and many Yakima Valley growers said they had a strong harvest.

DeVaney said concerns about inflation in production costs had led many growers to seek more efficient and cost-saving methods of production. At least one session focused on the challenges apple growers faced in marketing and selling their products.

DeVaney added that new technologies, improving management and leadership, better-managed finances and investment from outside sources were also in-demand topics.

“There’s always interest in how you can grow the best fruit,” DeVaney said.

That was one of the reasons Brian Vazquez and Craig Chronister, who work in field services for Cowiche Growers Inc., were at the meeting.

“We’re trying to keep up with the industry,” Chronister said.

Vazquez said Cowiche Growers, a co-op fruit packer for small farmers in the Yakima area, works closely with those growers. Its goal is to learn more about fruit-packing logistics and bring new information to those growers.

“We’re here to see what we can get out of this for the growers,” Vazquez said. “There’s a lot of technology out there.”

New artificial intelligence technologies can help project production and plan logistics, Vazquez said.

“(With) inflation on top of the market that’s happening right now, it’s tough,” Vazquez said.

More growers are using technology and data to guide their decisions, said Hunter Price, an account executive with Semios, a crop management platform.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” Price said.