In My View
Partnership saves products of breeding program
There are new cherries on the market with names derived from geographical points in Washington State. They are helping fruit growers survive and prosper in difficult times. They spread the market time, expand fruit size, and increase consumer options.
Variety names like Chelan, Selah, and Benton are novel to the cherry industry but they are assisting in its expansion. These new varieties are the result of decades of breeding at Washington State University. But, except for efforts by fruit tree nurseries in the Pacific Northwest, all would have been lost to the burn pile.
In 1985, Dr. Tom Toyama, long-time breeder in the program, retired. As often is the case, the university was in the midst of a budget crunch and decided to terminate the program. Most tree fruit growers were satisfied with Bing as their industry mainstay and saw little reason for adding more varieties to the mix. However, from the nursery perspective, some of the breeding program's advanced selections looked promising. At the urging of one nursery and with the assistance and encouragement of Dr. Ed Proebsting, a WSU horticulturist at the time, the fruit tree nurseries in Washington and Oregon formed an alliance between themselves and the university to preserve, evaluate, and market promising selections of the terminated program.
This alliance eventually became known as the Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute, and its prime mission from 1987 onward has been to salvage, maintain, evaluate, market, and commercialize products from this terminated stone fruit breeding program. The genetic crosses had ceased a few years before, but promising selections were still being appraised at that time. Cherry, peach, apricot, and plum lines needed further evaluation and scrutiny. One of the nurseries had planted an orchard with many of the cherry lines and was able to provide commercial evaluation of production, harvest, packing, and market analysis.
The Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute paid for the patenting and trademarking of this material and continues to provide the necessary legal protection of those certificates. In concert with WSU's pomologists, data were gathered for the patenting process and for providing information to the greater industry about the potential of these products. A portion of the income generated by royalties of the successful varieties pays for management of the program and applicable research. The rest is received by WSU with the understanding that it is to be used to support tree fruit research projects, including the inventor Tom Toyama's portion, which he consigned to these same projects.
Since the inception of the alliance, three apricot, two plum, and eight cherry varieties were named and introduced to the industry, and hundreds of thousands of dollars were generated for the university. The cherries include Chelan, Index, Cashmere, Tieton, Selah, Benton, Olympus, and Glacier. Of these, Chelan, which is an early maturing, firm, mahogany-colored cherry, is the most planted and has, thus far, been of the greatest benefit to fruit growers. Commercialized apricots include Tomcot, Goldstrike, and Goldbar. Plum releases include Autumn Sweet, a uniquely flavored, late-maturing, European-type variety.
Unifying the industry
The Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute officially brought together for the first time the various Northwest nurseries that produce trees for the national tree fruit industry. This association not only provided the groundwork for evaluation and promotion of WSU varieties, it also formed the foundation by which these nurseries cooperatively solve problems of mutual interest.
Research funded by the Institute includes studies to minimize the effects of bacteria, fungi, and viruses on tree production. Studies on optimizing tree harvest, storage, and transport and evaluations of promising tree fruit selections are also conducted.
More recently, because of another budget cut, this time federal, Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute members are working to save the network of programs that secure pathogen-free planting stock in this country. This initiative is called the National Clean Plant Network and, if petition for funding is successful, would provide the infrastructure to assist plant propagators in securing healthy nursery stock for grapevines and fruit, nut and ornamental trees for subsequent fruit grower plantings. They are conferring with the American Nursery and Landscape Association, tree fruit grower associations, and the grapevine industry in efforts to secure important alliances in this effort.
This now nearly 20-year-old partnership between nurseries and university research spawned cooperative efforts that not only benefited these two partners but also benefited their clients, the fruit growers, which subsequently benefits the region's economy. Through foresight and cooperation, research products were saved and information transfer and application are being implemented. The partnership may be a good model for other universities to build upon as they search for ways to give practical result and application to their research and to subsequently benefit with an income stream from that product.
The following varieties mentioned in this article are protected by patent and trademark: Chelan (USPP 8,545), Index (USPP 10,459), Tieton (USPP 11,385), Selah (patent pending), Benton (USPP 15,847), Olympus (USPP 8,033), and Glacier (USPP 8,051), Tomcot (USPP 7,034), Goldstrike (USPP 7,035), and Goldbar (USPP 7,045).