SPOKANE— The state’s apple and pear growers have voted to donate $27 million over the next eight years to support tree fruit research at Washington State University, the largest single gift in the Pullman school’s history.
The growers voted to tax themselves $1 per ton of fruit and dedicate the money to research, they said at WSU’s research center in Prosser on Tuesday morning. Growers of cherries and stone fruit also voted, but they declined to approve the special assessment.
Washington is the nation’s top apple producer, and the tree fruit industry is a $6 billion business in the state. One-third of that business is tied to exports.
“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,” said Dan Newhouse, director of the state Department of Agriculture.
Jim Doornink, chair of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, said WSU has long had a close relationship with growers.
“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.
Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, said the money will go to WSU’s research and extension centers at Wenatchee and Prosser. The money will be an endowment that will last into perpetuity, he said.
Of the funds, $11 million will create six endowed research chairs to provide support for tree fruit research programs. WSU will cover the salary and benefit costs for each faculty position.
Additionally, $11 million will go to create new positions in farming regions to accelerate the transfer of new information and technologies to growers and shippers.
Also, $5 million will go to create research orchards in Prosser and Wenatchee to help develop cutting-edge technologies and practices.
“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.”
Floyd announced in December that WSU was launching a $1 billion fundraising drive, and this gift will be counted toward that goal. So far, the Campaign for WSU has raised more than $621 million.
Last year, Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen donated $26 million to WSU’s School for Global Animal Health, which previously was the largest private donation in the school’s 120-year history.