WSU faculty, aided by tree fruit industry members, plant trees at WSU’s new research orchard near Wenatchee to symbolize the university’s commitment to the industry. Pictured are, from left, Jim Doornink, president of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission; Linda Kirk Fox, associate director for Extension; Dr. Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources Science; and Dr. Elson Floyd, WSU president.
Partnering with the tree fruit industry is a priority for Washington State University, top WSU administrators assured growers during the dedication of a new research orchard at Wenatchee this fall.
"At no time is this partnership more important than right now," said Dr. Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. "This industry has received more research dollars and investment from WSU than any other sector of the ag economy in recent years, and that will continue to be the case.
"Obviously, all of our industries are important," he acknowledged. "But if you’re trying to be a good steward of resources, you have to look at what the impacts of those dollars are going to be."
The tree fruit industry is at a tipping point, he said, and is leading other agricultural industries in facing challenges such as inadequate labor, increasing production costs, global competition, and increasing demand for high-quality fruit. "These are things all industries are facing, but this industry is facing more acutely."
Solutions will involve research and outreach to deliver new technologies to producers. WSU has strengthened its programs in tree fruit genomics, as well as mechanization and automation, to help the industry face such challenges, he said. The new 150-acre research orchard between Wenatchee and Quincy represents part of the strategic investments WSU has made to serve the industry, he said.
The university bought the orchard last fall and replanted about 30 acres this spring, in partnership with the industry. This will enable scientists to conduct research in situations similar to modern commercial orchards. The orchard also includes 80 acres of mature organic apples, which makes WSU the owner of the largest certified organic research orchard in the nation, said Dr. Jay Brunner, director of the Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. The organic blocks are currently leased to an orchard management company.
About 40,000 apple, pear, and cherry trees of modern varieties on modern rootstocks were donated by nurseries for the new high-density plantings. Other entities donated equipment and time to get the new orchard established. The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission donated $500,000 and much staff time to the project.
Brunner said this is just the beginning. "We want to move forward with you as partners."
"It’s all about partnership," Bernardo reiterated. "The thing that’s great about working with the tree fruit industry is this is an industry that’s looking 20 years out, and that’s very refreshing because that’s our job. We have to address the present, but we have to be out there 20 years."
Dr. Elson Floyd, WSU’s new president, said the tree fruit industry would be the university’s top priority, and work at the research orchard would lead to new discoveries and development of best practices to help growers improve production and make their lives easier.