People love apples. Jim Bair knows the feeling.
When Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association, tells people he meets in social situations what he does, he is often delighted with their response. Often they must tell him of their favorite apple variety, or a cherished story from their childhood about going to an apple orchard, or even the nostalgia of eating apple pie for Thanksgiving dinner.
“When I tell them (what I do), their eyes light up, and almost universally the response is, ‘My gosh, myself, family, we love apples. And our favorite variety is ...’”
Bair said it makes him smile when those exchanges happen.
“I get almost an electric charge out of that because I’ve spent a career in other segments of agriculture where people never respond that way to other commodities, or other foods. It’s just taken for granted. But somehow apples have this special place in people’s minds and in their memories, and in their palates. It’s great to be associated with an industry that the public feels so positive toward.”
The love affair that people have with apples is shared by few commodities, he said.
Bair, at U.S. Apple Association for about five years, grew up on a farm in Iowa and earned a B.S. in agricultural science at Iowa State University. Now he has one foot in U.S. apple orchards and other foot in DC politics.
“For someone like me, it’s the best of both worlds,” he said.
Before coming to U.S. Apple, he was vice president of the North American Millers Association.
Now firmly rooted as an apple industry leader in Washington, D.C., Bair said apple growers are forward-looking and confident in how they look at the future.
“Before I came to the industry, I’d never seen such optimism,” he said.
When growers plant a tree, they know it will take years to generate a return to the farm.
“So apple growers have a long planning horizon. And they need to be certain that the varieties they plant are in sync with the changing tastes of consumers,” he said.
Bair said he has made it a constant priority to talk to people in the industry, learning what is on their minds, their challenges and opportunities. Distilling all that information and emotion to its essence is the challenge of working with policymakers on Capitol Hill.
“It is important to make the message memorable and observable so they can do what you would like them to do,” he said.
The apple industry has valued Bair’s leadership, said Mike Preacher, director of marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash.
“He is a great advocate for our entire industry and does a fine job of balancing the various growing regions,” Preacher said.
Bair’s extensive knowledge in agriculture and how DC works is invaluable, he said.
“Above all, he is always giving credit to his team, which I just think that he’s selfless in that regard. We’re just lucky to have him.”