By DAN WHEAT
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Cherry and stone fruit growers in Washington have approved a referendum increasing their assessments to invest $5 million in Washington State University research and extension.
"The close partnership between Washington's tree fruit industry and WSU continues to be transformational," Elson S. Floyd, WSU president, said in announcing the referendum results.
"Working together for more than a century, we have helped to make Washington a world leader in tree fruit production," he said in a news release. "We are extremely grateful for the industry's confidence and investment in WSU."
The referendum was approved by 338 of 565 ballots cast by cherry growers, a 59 percent approval rate, and by 32 of 47 ballots from stone fruit growers, a 68 percent affirmation, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
Cherry growers will be assessed $4 per ton and stone fruit (peach, nectarine, apricot and plum) growers $1 per ton beginning this season and until $5 million is reached or eight years pass, whichever comes first.
A similar measure failed in the fall of 2011 while a $27 million assessment on apples and pears passed.
In total the $32 million now to be raised will create endowments, the interest earnings from which support personnel and equipment for six faculty positions, five positions tied to WSU research and extension centers and supplementing county extension, and support for research orchard operation.
Des Layne and Stefano Musacchi have been hired for two of the endowed chairs.
Layne became WSU tree fruit extension program leader Feb. 1 at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. He was state extension horticulture program leader at Clemson University in South Carolina.
Musacchi, assistant professor in the University of Bologna's Department of Fruit Tree and Woody Plant Sciences in Italy, will become a WSU chairman in tree fruit physiology and management in August.
Beside helping support those positions, the cherry and stone fruit referendum will pay for new cherry and stone fruit plantings at WSU research orchards in Wenatchee and Prosser.
Apples are the state's leading agricultural commodity, at $1.83 billion in 2011 farmgate value, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Total tree fruit value was $2.5 billion.
The state apple industry generated $7 billion in total economic output in the 2010-2011 sales season, according to a 2012 study for the Washington Apple Commission. That figure includes all levels of production, packing, processing, marketing and research.
Gip Redman, chairman of the Washington State Fruit Commission, said the commission voted unanimously to re-run the referendum and is thrilled growers "affirmed the importance of this investment."
Redman and Jim Doornink, chair of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, said passage helps keep the industry competitive globally.
Jake Gutzwiler, chair of the WSU Endowment Advisory Committee, which helps direct endowment spending, said research and innovation has always been at the heart of the industry's success.
The committee has been developing a list of research and extension needs, he said. It's been a challenge to develop those needs for apples and pears but not cherries and stone fruit and now they can be part of it, he said.
Gutzwiler is a cherry grower and quality control manager at Stemilt Growers Inc. in Wenatchee.