Tough times in the tree fruit industry around the turn of this past century led a group of visionary industry leaders to prepare a plan for success, of which precision agriculture is a key component. The need for such a strategy was quite simple, says Fran Pierce, director of the Center for Precision Agricultural Systems at Washington State University. Washington’s growers — who are big players in the nation’s $12 billion fruit and nut industry — producing nearly 60% of the nation’s apples, were having a tough time competing in the global market. A steering group, of which Pierce is a member, came together to produce the “Technology Roadmap for Tree Fruit Production.” The need for the road map is summed up cogently: “For the U.S. tree fruit industry to compete globally, we must reduce the cost of production of its highest quality fruit 30% by the year 2010.” The following are some excerpts from the road map’s executive summary:
“The U.S. tree fruit industry has based its success on production efficiency, product quality, and worldwide marketing. One third of its apple, pear, and sweet cherry crops is exported. To sustain its success in domestic and international markets, this industry must rapidly adjust to the dynamics of globalized trade and technology. In large part, globalization is a direct result of a worldwide proliferation of technology that has enabled many to effectively compete in areas from which they were once excluded. Ironically, it is also technology that will empower American agriculture to remain competitive in a global economy.
“Research must be conducted and technologies developed to improve the sustainability, efficiency, and quality of fruit production. Producers and their work force, the backbone of many rural agricultural communities, must have access to these technologies and the means to improve their economic situations. Rapid, easily accessible rural communications systems must be developed. Decisions about how and where the technology can be implemented are critical. The entire industry and its research community must be involved in this initiative.”
The full text of the road map is available online at www.treefruitresearch.com.