Open positions may not be filled any time soon, center superintendent says
By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- The Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee lost two of its four horticulturists to retirement Dec. 31.
Filling the spots is not certain, given the recession and $5 billion state budget shortfall.
Larry Schrader, 69, with doctorates in plant physiology and biochemistry, is a former dean of WSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics. He specializes in sunburn, heat and light damage to fruit and developed an apple sunscreen.
Eugene Kupferman, 66, focuses on minimizing postharvest disorders and innovations in the handling of packing and storage of fruit. He also studied and encouraged pre-ripening of d'Anjou pears, which improved their marketability.
Of the two remaining horticulturists, Don Elfving, a researcher on chemicals impacting vegetative growth and fruit quality, has indicated he's contemplating retirement in the near future, said Jay Brunner, center superintendent.
Only Kate Evans, horticulturist and tree fruit breeder, is relatively new in her job, having started two years ago.
Openings are not automatically filled, Brunner said. Open positions revert back to the university provost and new positions must be applied for and justified by the center, industry and college, he said.
The highest priority is a new plant physiologist to work on not just heat and light but other stressors of fruit quality, Brunner said. The position would be mostly research and some extension. It hopefully will be filled this year, he said.
The second priority is a new postharvest extension position, which may take a year and a half and requires passage of a per-box assessment fee increase by growers this spring, Brunner said.
The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission and the state Department of Agriculture will send ballots to approximately 3,000 tree fruit growers in the spring. If passed by a simple majority, the measure will raise about $32 million over eight years. As announced a month ago, the revenue would go to three endowments to fund faculty and extension positions and research orchard operations.
Brunner said he's optimistic the assessment will pass since it has industry support.
One of the center's four entomology positions, vacant for a year, also needs to be filled, he said.
Normally, it takes six months to a year to fill such positions, he said. The process is slowed now because of uncertainty over the state budget, he said.
Schrader and Kupferman will continue in limited roles, he said.
"Both have contributed a lot, and that has some lasting effect," Brunner said. "But you want to hire new people. The longer you go with the positions empty, the bigger the impact."
The USDA Agricultural Research Service Tree Fruit Research Laboratory in Wenatchee has seven faculty in postharvest physiology and pathology.