When agricultural economist Desmond O’Rourke arrived in Washington in 1970, growers were reeling from a widespread winter freeze that damaged trees and led to a large crop of small apples. Packing plants were not the shiny, sterile, behemoths they are today, and one of his first tasks was to participate in a study on packing costs and help them find efficiencies. He would spend the next five decades observing, investigating, and analyzing the dynamic state industry that has become one of the world’s most competitive in deciduous tree fruit production.
O’Rourke wrote Tree Fruit Trade as “a tribute to those who served the industry in the past and as a cautionary tale for those who seek to participate in its future.” Amidst plentiful personal anecdotes, he describes major players and organizations, and chronicles challenges like the 1988 Alar scare, changing regulations, food trends, and the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. He discusses the emergence of new threats, from the growth of Walmart to rising competition from China, and explains how the intrusion of electronics, sensors, and computerized technology has forced family-owned firms to absorb new, specialized employees. He recounts battles to gain foreign market access and the ongoing campaign to ensure adequate labor for a growing footprint. He analyzes how the availability of adequate water and a large expanse of Columbia Basin flat land allowed the industry to dramatically increase production, achieve new levels of productivity, and design orchards suited to modern tree architecture.
Desmond O’Rourke has studied and worked in the Washington State fruit industry for more than fifty years—thirty in the WSU Department of Agricultural Economics, and since 2000, as a private consultant through his company, Belrose, Inc., for 24 years publisher of the World Apple Report. He has published books, monographs, journal articles, and special publications on many aspects of the world fruit trade, and has served on numerous national, state, and university committees, including—at the invitation of five consecutive governors—the Washington State Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.
In June, 2021, Tom Karst, editor of industry publication, The Packer, asked O’Rourke about the ways the Washington apple industry has changed and what challenges and opportunities may lay ahead. Listen to the interview. Read the interview.
“An invaluable contribution to the understanding of Washington state’s top commodity, and extremely enlightening to anyone unfamiliar with the industry. It is well written and well sourced.”—Dan Wheat, award-winning freelance journalist and former Capital Press field reporter
“The level of detail is outstanding. Only this author was so closely tied to nearly everything he writes about. I know of no books like it. Everything in it resonates with me.”— Bruce Grim, former executive director of the Washington State Horticultural Association and retired fruit marketing associations manager
Illustrations / bibliography / index / 294 pages (2022)
ISBN 978-0-87422-412-2 Paperback