An industry advisory committee has been formed to work with Washington State University to decide how to spend the money that will be generated by a special research assessment on Washington apples and pears.
The $1-per-ton assessment, which goes into effect with the 2012 crops, will provide $11 million for six endowed chairs to support WSU’s tree fruit research programs in perpetuity. Another $11 million endowment will fund several new positions in information and technology transfer. These nontenured positions will work with WSU Extension and focus on industry priorities.
The special assessment will also provide $5 million for an endowment to support WSU’s research orchards in Wenatchee and Prosser.
Dr. Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, said the new initiative in information and technology transfer will build on existing extension capabilities. “We have some of the very best extension personnel in the world,” he said. “The problem is, we don’t have very many of them.”
WSU recently reorganized Extension so that its personnel are assigned to statewide program units rather than geographic units as in the past. There are three program units: agriculture and natural resources, youth and family, and community and economic development.
Tree fruit extension educators Tim Smith, Karen Lewis, and Gwen Hoheisel are no longer tasked with serving the counties in which they are located, but now work on a statewide basis, said Dr. Randy Baldree, who heads the agriculture and natural resources program unit. There is no longer an open extension position dedicated to Yakima County. Most extension personnel will still be located in county offices and research and extension centers, however.
As a result of the extension reorganization, which took effect in September, WSU is planning to create two new positions. One is a director of Extension, who will also serve as associate dean under Dr. Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. That person will oversee the directors of the three extension program units.
WSU is also looking at hiring a tree fruit extension team leader, Baldree said. This person would provide coordination between all the personnel who are doing research relating to tree fruit and ensure that the university has a unified outreach program statewide.
“We’ve recognized the need for this for a long time,” Baldree said, noting that such positions already exist for other commodities, such as potatoes and cattle.
Dr. Jay Brunner has served as the tree fruit extension leader by default, he added, but he also has the duties of running WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee as well as working as a research entomologist. The new position would probably be located at the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.
McFerson said the goal is to create five new positions in information and technology transfer, but there are no specific job descriptions at this time.
“What we wanted the endowment to create was the opportunity for the best possible information and technology transfer and be receptive and proactive, rather than saying we know right now what the five positions are,” he said.
The industry committee, known as the Endowment Advisory Committee, will create a strategic plan for the endowments, in collaboration with WSU, and will oversee them. Committee members will write job descriptions for the new positions and serve on selection committees.
The special assessment was approved by 57 percent of the apple growers who voted and 56 percent of the pear growers. However, only 44 percent of the cherry growers and 43 percent of stone fruit growers voted in favor, so they will not pay the assessment. The proposed rate for cherries was $4 a ton, which McFerson said is equivalent to the $1 assessment on apples and pears on a per-acre basis. The rate for stone fruits would have been $1 a ton.
McFerson said none of the new endowment money will be used for projects relating to cherries or stone fruits. “We’re going to do our very best to make sure that every dollar out of thespecial assessment is apportioned to the crop based on the revenues we received.”
The Endowment Advisory Committee comprises one representative each from the Fresh Pear Committee, Washington Apple Commission, Washington State Fruit Commission, Washington State Horticultural Association, Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, and the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, and one member representing both the Washington Growers Clearing House Association and the Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association.