A referendum will be held soon to find out if growers are willing to pay a special assessment to enhance tree fruit research at Washington State University.

The university has launched a major fundraising campaign to help strengthen priority programs and hopes to raise $42 million for tree fruit research.

The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission is proposing to levy a special assessment equal to the current research assessment that growers pay, which would generate $32 million over the next eight years. The current assessment rates are $4 a ton for cherries and $1 a ton for other fruits.

Before holding a referendum, the commission had to survey growers to determine what the impact of the special assessment would be on small businesses. Commission Manager Dr. Jim McFerson said the survey showed that small businesses would not be unduly affected. Public hearings on the proposed assessment were scheduled in Yakima and Wenatchee in July.

The $32 million to be raised through the assessments would go to three endowment funds:

  • A $12-million endowment would fund six permanent research positions in the areas of tree fruit physiology, pomology, soil health and productivity, crop protection, molecular biology, and engineering and automation.
  • A $12-million endowment would fund five new positions in information and technology transfer.
  • An $8-million endowment would provide about half the operating funds for WSU’s research orchards at Wenatchee and Prosser.

Phase 2

The university hopes that allied industries will contribute the remaining $10 million to the tree fruit campaign. Northwest Farm Credit Services is donating $500,000 to the WSU Campaign, with half of that dedicated to tree fruit research and the other half to wine research.

Ben McLuen, assistant director of development with WSU’s College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resources Sciences, said the $250,000 earmarked for tree fruit will pay for two modular buildings at Sunrise Orchard that will serve as research laboratories where scientists can do field work. He expects construction to begin this year.

The rest of the $10 million would be used to create an endowment fund for student fellowships and internships and to pay for new apple handling equipment at the Wenatchee Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center and cherry handling equipment at the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.

McLuen said WSU is pleased with the endorsements it has been receiving from organizations in the industry. The university is putting together a strategic plan as it waits to see if growers choose to pay the special assessment. “It really is a game changer in the world of research,” he said.

Tom Butler, who is on the Tree Fruit Campaign Industry Leadership Team, said the tree fruit industry needs augmented research to address the much more complex issues it will face in the future. The proposed endowment funds are a way for the industry to have input and some oversight regarding the ­university’s tree fruit research programs.

The date of the referendum had not been announced as of press time. Go to goodfruit.com or http://treefruit.wsu. edu/campaign/ for the latest information.