Dr. Jay Brunner
Washington State University will officially announce a major fundraising campaign this month to fund priority programs.
The university aims to raise a billion dollars over a five-year period, and already raised a significant amount before moving the campaign into the public phase. About 25 percent of the target is earmarked for the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. The college hopes that $35 million will be raised, primarily from the tree fruit industry, to enhance tree fruit programs at its research and extension centers in Prosser and Wenatchee.
Dr. Jay Brunner, director of the Wenatchee center, said that the university envisioned the campaign well before it was subjected to recent cuts in state funding. The campaign is not designed to compensate for declining state funding, but is meant to enhance WSU programs that are considered high priorities.
A strategic planning effort began several years ago within the CAHNRS to identify areas that could benefit from additional resources and would position the tree fruit research and extension centers to serve the industry for the next 20 years. Funding from the tree fruit campaign would help pay for:
- expansion of research orchards in Wenatchee and Prosser
- expansion of tree fruit technology transfer and outreach programs
- establishment of five endowed chairs, possibly in the areas of tree fruit physiology, integrated pest management, soil health, innovative tree fruit production systems, and sensors and information technology
An outside investment of $1.5 million is required for each endowed chair position. Interest from that investment funds the program, and WSU must allocate funds to pay for the faculty member’s salary. The endowment ensures that the position remains in perpetuity.
Dr. Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, who is a member of WSU’s national campaign steering committee, said the aim is to have a stronger public-private partnership. “It’s a way for the industry to say, ‘We’re going to have the best researchers we can find in areas that are important to the industry going forward.’ It’s a nice vehicle to attract the best scientists from around the world.”
Dr. Dan Bernardo, dean of CAHNRS, said endowment chairs for the industry can incentivize the university to make targeted hires. “It’s going to be more and more important over time to develop this type of public-private partnerships with our friends in the industry to help fund our operations,” he said. “The most important thing we can do is hire and retain great faculty. It’s a critical way to ramp up the level of excellence in tree fruit research.”
Over the past year, Brunner and McFerson have visited more than 100 industry leaders and organizations to ask how they value WSU’s research and extension programs. Bernardo also visited a number of them.
“We’ve had excellent feedback,” Brunner said. “Almost to a person, there was an affirmative that, yes, WSU research and extension has value to the industry, though different people see different things more important than others.”
However, when they talked about fundraising, they learned that this was not the best time to ask people for money because although the industry was doing fairly well, it was reinvesting its earnings into orchards and infrastructure.
McFerson said they recognized that a fundraising effort of this magnitude needed to be industrywide, and so the Research Commission, which collects a grower assessment to fund research, plans to ask for an additional special assessment on Washington apples, pears, cherries, and stone fruits for up to seven years in order to raise about 70 percent of the tree fruit goal. The rate has yet to be determined.
Currently, the assessment rates are $1 a ton for apples and stone fruits and $4 a ton for cherries. The Research Commission does not collect the regular research assessment on pears. The Processed Pear Committee collects $1 a ton for research on processed pears, and the Fresh Pear Committee collects $1.41 per ton on fresh. Growers will need to vote on the special assessment in a referendum, which McFerson thinks will be held next spring.
“We understand we’re asking growers to tax themselves,” McFerson said. “In this economic climate right now, it’s a challenge, but we’re encouraged by the responses we got across the industry.”
Brunner and McFerson hope the remaining funds can be raised through voluntary gifts from people in the tree fruit industry or allied industries, such as suppliers and financial institutions. Gifts could include in-kind donations such as equipment and materials.
McFerson said if the industry doesn’t make the investment to maintain a dynamic, visionary, and creative research and extension base, it will lose ground relative to other industries.
“As a high-cost producer, unless we utilize technology to our advantage, we will surely lose our competitive advantage in the market place.”
Dr. Dan Bernardo, Dean of CAHNRS, said the university has made significant strides in its ability to be responsive and relevant to the tree fruit industry. “If we’re going to have any chance to ratchet it up and take it to another level, obviously we’re going to have to have help from the tree fruit industry and friends of the tree fruit industry because the state’s not going to do it for us.
“It’s critically important that we’re successful in this campaign,” he stressed. “We’re not looking at this as a substitute for state funds that we’re losing. We’re looking at it as increased capacity that we will have for the future because most of the funds we’re requesting are endowed funds. It reduces our dependence upon grants and contracts as well as the very unreliable state revenue.”
WSU is seeking state funding for capital projects at the research and extension centers. It hopes to complete the agriculture technology building at Prosser and replace old infrastructure at Wenatchee with a new fruit quality and integrated pest management facility. Funds from the WSU campaign will provide funds to install fruit handling and sorting equipment for research and extension activities.
The tree fruit campaign has a leadership team of industry volunteers: Bruce Allen, Orlin Knutson, Sean Gilbert, and Tom Butler of Yakima; Warren Morgan of Quincy; Stuart McDougall, West Mathison, and Harold Austin of Wenatchee; Ray Fuller of Chelan; and Alan Groff of Entiat.