Apple and pear growers throughout the state have agreed to make a historic investment of $27 million over the next eight years to support tree fruit research and extension at Washington State University. It is the largest single gift in the university’s history.

"A gift of this magnitude is truly transformational,” said WSU President Elson S. Floyd. "In partnership, WSU and growers will work to ensure the industry continues to be a leader in the global market.

"We sincerely thank the industry for making such a dramatic investment and for finding a way to make it happen that fits the industry’s culture and values,” he said.

Tree fruit a $6 billion industry

Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) officials certified the election results at end of day Friday, Sept. 16. Separate ballots were mailed for apples, pears, cherries and stone fruit, with producers of each commodity voting on the assessment.

Of the 791 ballots cast by apple growers, 450, or 57 percent, approved a $1 per ton assessment dedicated to WSU research and extension. Of the 265 ballots cast by pear growers, 148, or 56 percent, approved a $1 per ton assessment for WSU research and extension. Cherry and stone fruit growers did not approve the special project assessment, with 56 and 57 percent opposed, respectively.

This investment comes at a time when the $35 billion food and agriculture industry continues to increase its contribution to the state’s economy. Annually, the Washington tree fruit industry accounts for more than $6 billion in economic impact, with more than a third of that derived from exports.

Rich legacy of partnership

"Washington growers support research and extension because they know it’s important to invest in the future of the industry,” said Dan Newhouse, WSDA director. "We grow the best quality tree fruit in the world, but we need to be ready to respond to a changing marketplace, unknown pests and diseases and other uncertainties we can’t anticipate. This agricultural research at WSU will be a valuable tool as we seek to manage future risks.”

Jim Doornink, chair of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, said approval of the special project assessment speaks to a rich legacy of partnership between growers and WSU. He acknowledged there is "still much work to be done.”

"The Washington tree fruit industry is a global competitor today in part due to the partnership and close collaboration among growers and scientists at WSU,” said Doornink, who raises cherries, apricots, peaches, pears and apples in the Yakima Valley. "The results of that relationship show up every day in the orchard, the packing house and the market.

"We are thrilled with this endorsement by apple and pear growers,” he said. "As a commission working with WSU, we remain committed to serving all fruit growers in the state.”

Bruce Allen, a Washington tree fruit grower and shipper as well as a member of the volunteer leadership team that helped spearhead the tree fruit campaign, said research and innovation have always been at the heart of the industry’s success.

"The Washington tree fruit industry’s investment in WSU has always paid big dividends,” he said. "We, as growers, benefit economically from the partnership; this investment guarantees that will continue.”

Support for faculty, research

Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, agreed.

"This gift is testimony to three critical factors,” he said. "The first is the commitment and foresight of an extremely progressive industry. The second is the quality and contributions of the gifted and dedicated scientists at WSU who work tirelessly to serve the industry. And third is the trust and respect built between the two during a century-long partnership.”

Bernardo said WSU, over the past decade, has made significant and strategic investments in all areas of tree fruit research and extension. For the special project assessment, WSU worked closely with industry representatives to ensure their dollars are spent where they will have the most impact.

As a result, the funds will go to WSU’s research and extension centers at Wenatchee and Prosser. Specifically, the funds will be spent as follows:

• $11 million to create six endowed chairs to provide perpetual support for the tree fruit research program. WSU will cover the salary and benefit costs for each faculty position.

• $11 million to create an endowment to establish new positions in tree fruit production regions to accelerate the transfer of new information and technologies for Washington growers and shippers. These non-tenured positions will reinvigorate WSU extension activities and focus on industry priorities.

• $5 million to create an endowment to support dedicated research orchards in Prosser and Wenatchee and enhance development and evaluation of cutting edge technologies and practices.

Bernardo also noted that he will work directly with an advisory committee appointed by tree fruit industry organizations to ensure industry-endowed programs perform at the highest level and produce results for the growers and shippers of Washington.

Contributes to "Campaign for WSU”

Floyd announced last December that WSU is in a $1 billion comprehensive fundraising effort: "The Campaign for Washington State University: Because the World Needs Big Ideas.” The tree fruit industry’s gift of $27 million gift will be counted within that $1 billion goal.

To date, generous donors, businesses and organizations have committed more than $621.4 million to the Campaign for WSU to increase support for the university’s students, faculty, research and extension programs and to leverage the university’s impact across the state, nation and world.

Allied industry members have made additional gifts of more than $500,000 in support of tree fruit research at WSU, and efforts will continue to secure an additional $10 million in gifts from other businesses associated with the tree fruit industry over the next year.