Feb 6, 2013
Cherry, stone fruit growers approve assessment to support WSU

Cherry and stone fruit growers throughout the state have agreed to make a $5 million investment over the next eight years at Washington State University research and extension centers in Prosser and Wenatchee. This builds on a similar measure voted on by apple and pear growers in 2011 to galvanize cooperation between the industry and WSU.

“The close partnership between Washington’s tree fruit industry and Washington State University continues to be transformational,”said WSU President Elson S. Floyd. “Working together for more than a century, we have helped to make Washington a world leader in tree fruit production.

“The assessment by cherry and stone fruit growers, in combination with the $27 million investment in WSU made by apple and pear growers in 2011, helps to ensure that our partnership in progress continues for an even brighter future for our state,” he said. “We are extremely grateful for the industry’s confidence and investment in WSU.”

State Department of Agriculture officials certified the election results Monday, Feb. 4. Separate ballots were mailed for cherries and stone fruit. The referendum was approved by 338 of the 565 ballots cast by cherry growers, a 59 percent approval rate, and 32 of the 47 ballots cast by stone fruit growers, a 68 percent approval rate.

Cherry growers will be assessed $4 per ton and stone fruit growers $1 per ton.

This investment comes at a time when the state’s $46 billion food and agriculture industry continues to increase its contribution to the state’s economy. Annually, the Washington tree fruit industry accounts for more than $7 billion of economic impact, with more than a third of that derived from exports.

When cherry and stone fruit growers rejected a similar measure in 2011, many industry leaders felt it was imperative to try again.

“The Board of the Washington State Fruit Commission voted unanimously to re-run the referendum, and we are thrilled growers affirmed the importance of this investment,” said Gip Redman, a cherry grower and chair of the commission. “Now the entire Washington tree fruit industry is involved in the efforts on our behalf at the WSU research and extension centers in Prosser and Wenatchee – efforts which keep our industries globally competitive.”

Jim Doornink, chair of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, said approval of the special project assessment further cements a long-standing partnership between WSU and the state’s tree fruit industry.

“This investment builds on the strategic road map outlined by the industry and WSU over a decade ago for all our commodities,” said Doornink, who raises cherries, apricots, peaches, pears and apples in the Yakima Valley. “That trajectory has continued according to plan with WSU’s strategic hires, the commission’s continued funding of priority projects, and now this industry-wide support to make our research and extension partnership with WSU unequivocally the best in the world.”

“We compete in a global market, and this investment ensures we will continue to be leaders in innovation while maintaining economic prosperity for Washington growers,” said Jake Gutzwiler, a cherry grower and quality control manager for Stemilt Growers who added that research and innovation have always been at the heart of the Washington tree fruit industry’s success.

Gutzwiler is also chair of the WSU Endowment Advisory Committee, which, along with WSU administrators and researchers, has been guiding decisions about how to direct funds from Washington apple and pear growers’ $27 million investment.

“We’ve been developing a list of industry needs in terms of research and extension,” he said. “The challenge has been developing these needs for only apples and pears, when cherries and stone fruit are a significant part of our industry.

“We just saw the hiring of Desmond Layne, a leader in the delivery of scientific information to producers through extension,” Gutzwiler said. “And with the recent hire of Stefano Musacchi, a world-renowned pomologist (fruit scientist), the industry investment has already attracted two of the best scientists in the world to work right here in Washington.

“With the additional $5 million investment by cherry and stone fruit growers, we can ensure these new positions represent the full Washington tree fruit industry,” he said.

Dan Bernardo, vice president for agriculture and extension and dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, agreed.

“The full support of the tree fruit industry is a testament to three critical factors,” he said. “The first is the commitment and foresight of an extremely progressive industry. The second is the long history of quality contributions by our gifted and dedicated scientists and extension professionals at WSU who work tirelessly to serve the industry. And third is the trust and respect built between the two during a century-long partnership.”

Bernardo said WSU has been making significant and strategic investments in all areas of tree fruit research and extension over the past decade. For the special project assessment, WSU is working closely with the industry-appointed Endowment Advisory Committee to ensure their dollars are directed where they will have the most impact.

As a result, the funds will go to WSU’s research and extension centers at Wenatchee and Prosser. Specifically, the funds will be allocated as follows:

  • $12 million to establish endowed chairs that will provide perpetual support for the tree fruit research program. WSU will cover the salary and benefit costs for each faculty position.
  • $12 million to create an endowment to establish new positions in tree fruit production regions to accelerate the transfer of new information and technologies for Washington growers and shippers. These positions will reinvigorate WSU extension activities and focus on industry priorities.
  • $8 million to create an endowment to support dedicated research orchards in Prosser and Wenatchee and enhance development and evaluation of cutting edge technologies and practices.

Bernardo will continue to work directly with the committee to ensure industry-endowed programs perform at the highest level and produce results for the growers and shippers of Washington.

Floyd announced WSU’s historic comprehensive fundraising effort – “The Campaign For Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas” – in December 2010. The tree fruit industry’s combined commitment of $32 million will be counted toward the campaign’s $1 billion goal.

Generous donors, businesses and organizations have committed more than $758.1 million to the campaign to increase support for WSU’s students, faculty, research and extension programs and to leverage the university’s impact across the state, nation and world.

— Brian Clark, Washington State University

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