Trees play a vital role in our daily lives. The Arbor Day Foundation recommends planting fruit trees for their many environmental benefits. Fruit trees, like apples and pears, help clean our air and drinking water, benefit wildlife, and help reduce the impacts of climate change all while also producing healthy food.
Since 1872, Arbor Day has been celebrated as the nation’s tree-planting holiday. While growers are planting trees and tending their orchards to produce food, we want to recognize fruit trees’ broader impact in Washington State. The Red Delicious apple helped propel Washington into the leading producer of apples in the United States, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all production. today, over 2,500 Washington growers cultivate more than 240,000 acres of apple, cherry, and pear trees each year.
Fruit trees are vital to the economy in Washington but their contribution to our environment and natural resources are sometimes overlooked. Trees help clean our air and water, contribute to animal habitats and help control erosion. Healthy trees also help store carbon from the atmosphere and reduce the impacts of climate change. Orchards and the nurseries that supply them cultivate trees to produce fruit now and in the future.
Growing food from trees takes energy; hard work, sunlight, and fuel. Orchardists rely on dependable and consistent fuel sources to protect and cultivate fruit trees, to harvest and move fruit, and to safely handle and store it. Natural gas is an important part of this mix.
The electrical grid in many rural communities can’t provide the clean, reliable energy we need at every point in these 240,000 acres of orchards. So, we turn to the cleanest-burning fuel available, natural gas. Natural gas is used in various ways in fruit orchards, powering irrigation systems and frost control, and fueling generators during power outages. A spring frost could risk a crop before it gets a chance to grow, while an early autumn frost could destroy a crop on the tree before it’s ready for harvest.
Our members rely on modern horticultural practices that require precise orchard management to produce healthy crops and reduce food waste. To do this, orchardists must take specific actions at the required times or face a significant loss of production volume or food quality. A loss of power at such at a time means the loss of a crop.
Natural gas also helps to stabilize our energy supply to protect state-of-the-art packing facilities from power outages. Cold storage is vital to maintain the freshness of fruit as it’s prepared for transport. Power outages in the hot summers of central Washington could quickly spoil fruit before it can be consumed. But natural gas provides protection against the loss of food in storage.
Fruit trees help provide healthy food, clean air, and clean water. Natural gas is an important tool in maintaining our regional food system. Taking away this tool puts at risk the economic and environmental benefits that come from growing tree fruit in our state.
Jon DeVaney is President of the Washington Tree Fruit Association