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Future of fruit

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The Northwest Hort Expo attracts scores of vendors and visitors each year. The Expo is the trade show portion of the annual meeting of the Washington State Horticultural Association.

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WENATCHEE — New technology and techniques to grow, harvest, pack and store fruit will be the focus here this week at the yearly gathering of one of the industry’s largest trade associations.

The 109th Annual Meeting of the Washington State Horticultural Association & Northwest Hort Expo will run Monday through Wednesday at the Wenatchee Convention Center. About 1,400 growers, orchard workers and suppliers are expected to attend.

This year’s theme — “Is Your Orchard Ready? Preparing Your Operation for the Future” — will focus on producing fruit in a quickly changing, fiercely competitive business environment, said WSHA President Jeff Cleveringa. “We’ll present thought-provoking ideas on how to stay ahead.”

The convention will offer three days of presentations by some of the industry’s top scientists, researchers and business leaders, said WSHA Communications Director Stephanie Chance. Keynote speaker will be Terence Robinson, a fruit physiologist from Cornell University in New York, with a talk entitled “A Vision for Apple and Pear Orchards of the Future.”

Other speakers will discuss how to choose new apple varieties, nutrients for high-density orchards, food safety in the field, finding and retaining good fruit pickers, controlling weeds and pests and 3- to 4-hour sessions focused on producing cherries and pears.

Technology sessions will include mechanization in Italian orchards, harvest technology in New Zealand, an update on pest biocontrol methods, a look at automated cherry lines, the future of marketing pre-sliced pears and how to choose which new technologies are best for a particular growing operation.

We have speakers coming from around the world,” said Chance. “For people here in the industry, this is a real opportunity to hear some of the world’s experts on growing fruit.”

Set for Tuesday, Spanish-language sessions will focus on orchard management and systems, preventing common diseases in tree fruit, services for migrant workers, ways to improve spraying techniques, ways to maintain a picking crew and other topics.

The NW Hort Expo, running concurrently with the WSHA convention, will feature 130 vendors and 500 industry reps to present the latest in chemicals, farm equipment, computer software and hardware, packing line machinery, cold storage solutions, worker housing, farm and orchard management services and lots more, said show coordinator Dawn Milne.

There’ll be lots of new technology to see,” said Milne, “because farmers are innovative people who are curious about what’s new and how it can benefit their growing operations.”

This year’s theme of the future of orchards has been popular among vendors, said Milne. Spaces for the Expo sold out in September — one of the earliest sell-outs ever — and there’s a waiting list of 60 vendors hoping to snag a spot.

This year’s annual convention is “a chance for us to assess our operations in light of future challenges,” said Cleveringa. Five years of rapid orchard expansion, new global markets, rising fruit prices, rising land costs and a dwindling labor force requires creativity and innovation from everyone in the industry, he said.

We hope to give some insight by giving growers a look into the future,” he added.

Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or . Read his blog Everyday Business. follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.