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Dr. Karina Gallardo is a new Washington State University Extension economist from Peru.

Scientists at Washington State University are working on many innovations for the tree fruit industry, such as new apple varieties, novel ways to control pests, and mechanization of orchard practices.

But what will be the economic impact of such changes?

That’s where extension economist Dr. Karina Gallardo hopes to play a role.

"There’s a need to establish the impact of new technologies on cost structures and long-term profitability," said Gallardo, who joined WSU’s faculty this fall and is the first economist to be based at the Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee.

Gallardo earned a bachelor’s degree in food science and technology in Lima, Peru. She then worked as a production supervisor in a Nestlé chocolate factory and as a quality supervisor in an asparagus processing and packing operation before emigrating to the United States in 2003. She earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics at Mississippi State University and a doctorate in agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University.

After joining WSU, Gallardo met with many fruit industry leaders to discuss their needs in terms of economic information. Though industry people are knowledgeable about economics, they have many economic concerns, she said. "I get a sense there was a thirst for an economist in this area."

New varieties

Several people told her they’d like to see an economic analysis of the risks and benefits of growing new varieties. For example, what premium might consumers be willing to pay for new varieties with attributes they desire? What would be the costs of changing production ­practices in order to grow a new variety successfully?

Gallardo also sees a need to assess the costs, benefits, and the impact on long-term profitability, of adopting food-safety programs, such as the SQF (Safe Quality Food) Program. How does food-safety certification affect consumer demand?

IPM

Gallardo is cooperating on a project led by WSU entomologist Dr. Vince Jones that aims to enhance biological control to stabilize integrated pest management in orchards. The five-year project is funded with a $2.2-million grant from the Specialty Crops Research Initiative. Gallardo will first of all update cost-of-production data for apples and pears, and then ­analyze the costs and benefits of using the new pest management technologies, so growers can see the potential profits (or otherwise) from making the change.

She’s also working on a project with Dr. Gene Kupferman, WSU postharvest extension specialist, relating to ripening of pears before shipping. Gallardo will assess how much consumers are willing to pay for pears at different stages of ripeness. She’ll also study how different firmness levels affect other attributes of the pears, such as juiciness.

Nutriceuticals

Gallardo is involved in a proposed project led by WSU biosystems engineer Dr. Shulin Chen, who hopes to explore the idea of establishing an industry to extract nutriceuticals from crops grown in ­Washington. For example, antioxidants could be extracted from cull apples and used to enhance other products, such as snacks.

Gallardo said this would create an additional outlet for cull apples, or even fruit that is not good enough to be juiced. She will study the potential economic gains for growers of establishing such an industry.

Other WSU faculty members involved are health economists Dr. Robby Rosenman and Dr. Bidisha Mandal, and regional development economist Dr. Andrew Cassey. The team plans to study how stable antioxidants are when processed in food products, and will look at the long-term effects on consumers’ health from eating products enhanced with nutriceuticals.

Hort speaker

Gallardo will speak during the Spanish session of the Washington State Horticultural Association’s convention on December 2 about competitive orchard systems and explain the benefits of using A Grower’s Technologies Economic Assessment Model (TEAM) software to assess the economic impacts of changes in orchard practices.