Specialty crops are an important part of Washington’s agricultural economy. “Specialty crops” are defined in federal law as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.” In 2015, five of the top ten agricultural commodities in Washington were specialty crops (apples, potatoes, cherries, grapes, and hops). Additionally, Washington ranks among the top in the nation in many other specialty crops.
Politico has a good story today looking at the industry and its technology and research needs:
The enormous logistical and technological challenges facing so many of the foods that nutritionists tell us to eat make research especially critical for produce, which as a sector is still relatively inefficient. Apples bruise. Berries don't all ripen at once. Cilantro wilts. Cherries can split and crack if it rains at the wrong time—a problem that can be so expensive, some growers hire helicopters to fly over their crop to dry the delicate fruit. Many of these crops still rely on increasingly expensive (and oftentimes undocumented) labor to pick them by hand. And water. They need lots of water.
Still, the industry has come a long way. The story talks about the early shipments of lettuce across the country and the advent of pre-washed, bagged lettuce in the 1980s. It also discusses how research is being done (including at Washington State University) to design robots and sorting machines to reduce labor costs. (For more on such technological advances, see the Fall 2016 issue of Washington Business Magazine, page 30.)