Washington stone fruit producers have put down a $5 million investment on research to keep the industry competitive.
The fund, approved by growers earlier this year, will be paid to Washington State University researchers over the next eight years "to maintain our market edge" in domestic and foreign sales, explains Jim McFerson, Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission manager.
"This is the largest contribution every made to WSU," he says, "and reflects the industry's motivation to assure we continue to have a full research portfolio."
Cherry growers will pay $4 a ton for the assessment, while other stone fruit producers will be taxed $1 per ton, but the shares are not as unequal as they sound, since cherry producers harvest about four to five tons an acre, and other stone fruit producers get up to four times that amount, explains McFerson.
"We feel our research program covers all areas of concern," he adds, noting that one of the key worries about the industry today is a labor shortage. Research on potential worker replacement concepts such as a mechanical harvester is one of the WSU study areas today.
But the commission is focusing on a variety of industry concerns, he explains, to "cover the waterfront" in gaining new techniques and products.
Research is a pivotal interest of the industry which has gleaned such breakthroughs as controlled atmosphere storage, high density orchards, new fertilization concepts, pruning techniques and other major tools from WSU research over the last several decades, he notes.
The latest donation is only part of WSU's new fruit industry dollar flow into research coffers. A similar $27 million program was approved by apple and pear growers in 2011.
The cherry and stone fruit growers failed to approve the funding in 2011 vote, but many in the business pressed for a new vote, which successfully passed in February.