On Wednesday, September 30, Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif was a featured speaker at the Bayer Horticulture Symposium held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Addressing a multinational audience, Nassif spoke on trends in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption and how the industry is responding to evolving demands from buyers and consumers. He was one of the first speakers of many during the two-day conference that explored the worldwide horticultural sector and how it adapts to a changing world.
Citing a recent survey from the Produce for Better Health Foundation, Nassif noted that while per capita consumption of produce has declined in recent years, there is a positive upward trend among younger demographics, which bodes well for the future. Even so, Nassif pointed out that Americans consume less than half of the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, leading to substantial public health costs. By closing the consumption gap, the United States could save more than $60 billion per year in costs related to cancer, coronary heart disease, and stroke—not to mention countless lives. However, the federal government does not place a high enough priority on programs that encourage increased produce consumption, according to Nassif. Case in point: while U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that fruits and vegetables comprise more than 40 percent of our daily intake, USDA spending on programs related to this food group amount to less than 15 percent of its total budget.
Shifting to evolving buyer and consumer demands, Nassif articulated that agriculture is “facing increased scrutiny for our use of inputs and resources,” and that buyers and consumers are “becoming more sophisticated, more concerned about where and how their food is grown,” especially in light of the ongoing drought in the western United States. More and more, agriculture is being made to account for the environmental impacts of our operations, as evidence by the growing legislative, regulatory, and marketplace pressures being placed on the industry. But WG’s CEO expressed optimism for the future, articulating that “the enduring characteristic of our industry is adaptability,” and despite the many challenges facing our industry, “somehow we manage to stay in business and continue feeding the world.”
Nassif spent the balance of his speech highlighting some of the innovations that will allow agriculture to thrive in the 21st century, including the development and adoption of technologies related to precision irrigation, mechanical (and, eventually, autonomous) harvesters, renewable energy, food waste, and vertical farming.