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Des Layne, TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower

Des Layne TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower

Washington Stat

e University plans to hire several new faculty over the next couple of years to work specifically on issues important to the tree fruit industry.

The university is interviewing three candidates to fill the position of Extension Specialist Tim Smith, who officially retired last August but continues to work part-time with emeritus status.

Dr. Des Layne, WSU tree fruit extension leader, said the new person would work alongside Smith initially. Layne is a member of the search committee for the position, along with Dr. Kate Evans, David Granatstein, and Gwen Hoheisel at WSU and industry members Bob Gix, Jeff Cleveringa, and Harold Schell.

During winter horticultural meetings, Layne and grower Sam Godwin, chair of the WSU Endowment Advisory Committee, gave an update on the WSU Tree Fruit Endowment Fund. Washington growers made a commitment to provide $32 million, through additional research assessments, to create the fund. As the fund grows, interest will be used to create new tree fruit positions.

About $12 million will be allocated to support eight new endowed chairs. WSU covers salary and benefits for the positions in perpetuity. Two have already been appointed:  Layne and Dr. Stefano Musacchi, pome fruit horticulturist. WSU has agreed to hire two more in 2016: a postharvest physiologist and a soil scientist who will focus on soil health and rhizosphere ecology. The other four positions have yet to be determined.

Another $12 million will be used to establish several nontenured positions in information and technology transfer to ensure that results of WSU research are applied on the farm.

A search committee has been formed for a postharvest specialist position, which will be filled within the next few months. That person will develop a statewide program focusing on diagnosis and management of postharvest diseases and food safety.

Interest from the remaining $8 million of the endowment fund will be used to support the university’s research orchards in Wenatchee and Prosser.