By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Washington cherry and stone fruit growers will get a second chance to increase their assessments to fund Washington State University research.

The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission unanimously voted April 5 to put before growers an assessment referendum to raise $5 million. The commission will work with the state Department of Agriculture toward a late fall or early winter vote, said Jim McFerson, commission manager.

"We'd like to target the voting period after the heavy load of harvest to maximize the ability of growers to know what they are voting on," McFerson said.

The department will hold public hearings and run the election using a Washington State Fruit Commission list of growers, he said. Costs will be minimal.

Apple and pear growers, many of whom are also cherry growers, passed a $27 million referendum last fall that authorized a doubling of apple and pear assessments to $1 per ton or 2 cents per box starting with this year's crops. The higher rate runs for eight years or until $27 million is collected, whichever comes first.

The revenue will fund three endowments. Interest earnings from the endowments will 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.

A referendum for an additional $5 million from cherry and stone fruit assessments failed to gain simple majority passage last fall. It may have been because the assessment was higher than apples and pears at $4 per ton or 4 cents per box, McFerson has said.

However, while the rate was higher, the revenue per acre was about the same as apples since per-acre yield of cherries is lower than apples, he said.

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