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Tree fruit assessments move forward


By DAN WHEAT


Capital Press


WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Washington tree fruit research leaders are moving forward in asking growers to contribute $32 million over eight years for more research at Washington State University.


The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission is forwarding results of a grower survey to the state Department of Agriculture in order to place an assessment referendum before growers in August.


The commission had hoped, last December, to run the referendum this May and start collecting the assessment on this year's crops. But state law required a survey first to make sure the added fees will not disproportionately impact small growers over larger ones, said Jim McFerson, research commission manager in Wenatchee.


Survey results from about 10 percent of the state's tree fruit growers show small growers will not be disproportionally affected, McFerson said. Had it been otherwise, mitigation measures would have been required, he said.


The five-week survey period ended the first week of May and results were going to the department this week, McFerson said on May 23.


Most respondents said the assessment would increase their cost or decrease their revenue per acre by less than 1 percent, he said.


"Everyone will pay based on production," he said.


The Department of Agriculture will hold a public comment period on proposed referendum language, probably in July, McFerson said. If passed by a simple majority in August assessments would start on 2012 crops, he said.


Announced at the annual meeting of the Washington State Horticultural Association last December, the proposal is for assessments of $1 per ton on apples and pears and $4 per ton on cherries and soft fruit for up to eight years or whenever the $32 million goal is reached.


The assessment equals about 2.1 or 2.2 cents per 40-pound box of apples, doubling what growers already pay. It is collected by the commission.


The new revenue would be placed into three endowments. Interest earnings from the endowments would fund 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 operations.


The $32 million is part of WSU's $1 billion fund-raising campaign that started in 2006. The College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resources is to raise $250 million and the $32 million is part of that.


The campaign began before the state's current budget shortfall and was not intended as replacement money for state budget cuts, McFerson said.


Tree fruit-related businesses are being asked to contribute $10 million toward the $250 million goal. Earlier this year, Northwest Farm Credit Services pledged $500,000.






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