FruitGrowerConnect: The Idea Exchange

Mealtime at FruitGrowerConnect is a great time for networking and sharing with your fellow growers what you've learned. (Photo credit: Rosemary Gordon)
Mealtime at FruitGrowerConnect is a great time for networking and sharing with your fellow growers what you’ve learned. (Photo credit: Rosemary Gordon)

Twenty fruit growers gathered along with supplier operations at the beautiful Hyatt Centric Park City in the breathtaking mountains of Utah this past week for a unique opportunity for their businesses: FruitGrowerConnect.

This annual event brings together some of the most progressive tree fruit, grape, and nut growers in the Western U.S. with suppliers and product solutions ranging from crop protection and nutrition to irrigation and nursery stock.

In advance of the event, each grower attendee took part in an in-depth interview to identify his or her most pressing needs and upcoming projects. Suppliers were recruited in categories that could offer solutions to those problems.

The result was two full days of private, 50-minute, decision maker-to-decision maker meetings between growers and vendors.

The event provided an efficient environment for discussions, free from the day-to-day distractions on the farm. Both the growers and the vendors decided in advance who they wanted to meet with, eliminating time wasted on meetings that weren’t a good fit for each.

Nonetheless, Tim Welsh, Tree Fruit and Variety Manager for Columbia Fruit Packers, Inc. in Wenatchee, WA, said he was a little leery at first about the concept.

“I was kind of a skeptic coming in,” said the first-time attendee. “It’s been an event that I’ve been surprised a little bit about because I was uncertain I would enjoy it as much and connect as much I would, and ultimately I have connected with some very good vendors.”

Jeff Leonardini, IPM Manager for Washington Fruit & Produce Co. of Yakima, WA, had attended FruitGrowerConnect before, so he had a better idea of what to expect. He was not disappointed.

“The quality of the suppliers I met this week were outstanding. I did not know 50% of the suppliers,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience to meet new people with new ideas, new materials and new technologies.”

Never underestimate the value of a good idea, said Leonardini, an American Fruit Grower® and Western Fruit Grower® Apple Grower of the YearSM, and FruitGrowerConnect is a great place to find them.

“I have the opportunity to connect with new potential valuable business partners who have new ideas that can help us grow, maximize our production, and be stewards of the land,” he said.

In addition to the private meetings, growers and vendors also had numerous opportunities during meals, receptions, and breaks throughout the day for informal discussions that also lead to solutions.

Welsh found the back-and-forth invaluable.

“I would just say there’s an opportunity to learn,” he said, “and when you get an opportunity to learn, take advantage of it.”

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