Horticulturist focuses on quality

WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center Eugene Kupferman, postharvest horticulturist at WSU Tree Fruit Reseach and Extension Center in Wenatchee, works with Golden Delicious apples. Kupferman retired Dec. 31. He led and contributed to many innovations and now is concerned about the future of research and extension service, given the recession and state budget cuts.

Growers: SmartFresh compound had a positive impact

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- After getting his bachelor's degree in international political science from the University of the Americas in Mexico City in 1967, Eugene Kupferman had no more of an idea of what he wanted to do in life than when he enrolled.

So he read a self-help book, "What Color is Your Parachute?" by Richard Bolles.

"I worked my way through that book and the way came clear," Kupferman said. "I wanted to work in a small town, with an annual crop and to affect people's lives in a positive way."

Some 43 years later, Kupferman retired Dec. 31 after 35 years with Washington State University,. Thirty of those years were as a postharvest horticulturist and extension educator at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee.

The Washington State Horticultural Association honored Kupferman for his service to the tree fruit industry with its Silver Pear Award at its annual meeting on Dec. 7. It was Kupferman's 66th birthday.

"Gene had an excellent understanding of how to interact with the industry and determine its critical needs," said Jay Brunner, center superintendent.

"He leaves a big gap," Brunner said. "We have no one on staff or even in Pullman now in tree fruit postharvest horticulture."

With his doctorate in horticulture from WSU, Kupferman hired on at the center in 1981 and early on perceived a way to help packing sheds improve cherry quality. His survey of how sheds packed cherries showed the best quality came with lower temperatures. Soon all sheds lowered their cherry handling temperatures.

Kupferman did similar surveys of apple and pear packing and storage, which resulted in packing line, chemical and storage improvements.

"Because I had lived abroad and traveled extensively, I was aware of the high-tech apple industry in Europe," Kupferman said.

He organized a series of educational tours to Europe for Washington tree fruit growers.

"We went to look at postharvest practices. We were Red Delicious- and Washington-centered at the time," Kupferman said. "My message was there were alternative ways people are doing things that are adequate or superior."

The series preceded what has become annual domestic and foreign tours by the International Fruit Tree Association.

Kupferman focused on research on how to minimize postharvest disorders like skin markings, skin browning during storage, lenticel breakdown, bitter pit, internal browning and firmness.

Doing his own research and building on the research of others, Kupferman found solutions and educated the industry. He developed techniques for harvest, storage and packing to minimize lenticel breakdown, which leads to skin discoloration and loss of value.

Kupferman studied and encouraged the use of ethylene gas to pre-ripen d'Anjou pears and improve their marketability. Procedures he developed were adopted by the industry last May and are intended to provide reliable ripe fruit to consumers.

"He's been instrumental in driving conditioning. He has passion and tenacity and an ability to present complex issues in laymen's terms," said Kevin Moffitt, president of The Pear Bureau Northwest in Portland.

In 2007, Kupferman conducted nationwide grocery store studies that showed SmartFresh, a compound that inhibits ethylene and apple ripening, helps retain apple firmness and acidity during storage. Other industry researchers have said SmartFresh is as significant an advancement to the industry as controlled-atmosphere storage.

"It took the industry from World War II to learn the ins and outs of controlled-atmosphere storage. SmartFresh has been around six years and we are just learning how to use it. It's a very powerful tool," Kupferman said.

Throughout his career, Kupferman has been a strong advocate of environmental conservation of land and water quality, at times speaking forcefully in public.

Two remarkable and important bulwarks of American agriculture, he said, have been land grant universities and the concept of the extension service -- the idea of educators translating research to help growers.

He is alarmed about the future given the recession and budget cuts. He views constant student tuition increases as "ludicrous."

"I'm dismayed there is such little attention paid to the benefit of education at this time and the stripping of funding of our universities," he said. "It's a tax savings that will only come back to bite us in the future.

"If you don't have researchers, you don't have anyone to apply for grants from the private sector and the government. If you don't have extension educators, you don't have anyone to bridge the gap between research and industry."

Eugene Kupferman

Age: 66

Born and raised: New York City

Lives in: Wenatchee, Wash.

Education: Bachelor's degree in international political science, University of the Americas, Mexico City, 1967; master's degree in agriculture, California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, 1972; doctorate in horticulture, Washington State University, 1978.

Occupation: Retired extension educator and tree fruit postharvest specialist, WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, Wenatchee.

Family: Married, three children, three grandchildren.

Quote: "I thank WSU for letting me be of service to the tree fruit industry which has a huge number of people working to provide consumers with healthy products."

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