Cherry and stone fruit producers in Washington State are invited to comment on a proposed special assessment to support research at Washington State University. The Washington State Department of Agriculture will hold two listening sessions, the first on November 14 at 4 p.m. at the W.L. Hansen Building in Yakima, and the second on November 15 at 4 p.m. at the Washington Apple Commission building in Wenatchee.

The new assessment would be $4 a ton for cherries and $1 for stone fruits, which is equal to the assessment they already pay. The Department of Agriculture is expected to send out a ballot to growers in mid-December.

In the fall of 2011, all commercial tree fruit growers voted on an additional research assessment. Apple and pear growers voted in favor, but cherry and stone fruit growers did not. Apple and pear growers began paying the new assessment on the 2012 crop. Through the assessment, they will raise up to $27 million for WSU research over the next eight years.

Funds will be used to create new endowed research chairs and a new Extension position, as well as to support WSU’s tree fruit research orchards. As a result of the industry’s financial commitment, WSU is recruiting a new pome fruit pomologist, who will be based in Wenatchee, and a statewide Extension team leader. If cherry and stone fruit growers approve the assessment, an additional $5 million will be raised to support research and information and technology transfer relating to those crops.

Dr. Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which collects the research funds, said the funds would help expand research capacity at WSU and not just maintain the current programs. 

“For cherries, we would expect to support research orchards at Prosser and maybe establish one in Wenatchee,” he said.

An endowment advisory committee, made up of industry people, would recommend where WSU should allocate the funds.