In Our View: Fruitful Donation

Apple, pear growers’ generosity will bear long-term benefits to WSU, consumers, state

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If you enjoy eating apples and pears — and as a Washingtonian, you’re obligated to — then you can rest assured about the future of those crops in the state.

Even if you don’t enjoy eating them — then you must not be a native — you can rest assured about the economic benefits those crops provide to Washington.

The state’s apple and pear growers have decided to donate $27 million over the next eight years to support tree fruit research at Washington State University, a gift that was announced Tuesday. Growers have voted to tax themselves $1 per ton of fruit and dedicate the money to research, providing funds for a perpetual endowment, school officials said.

The breakdown:

• About $11 million will go to the creation of six endowed research chairs to provide support for research programs.

• Another $11 million will go to create new positions in farming regions to accelerate the implementation of new information and technologies.

• And about $5 million will go to create research orchards in Prosser and Wenatchee to help develop cutting-edge technologies and practices.

While the money likely won’t directly impact Washington State University Vancouver, which does not have ties to WSU’s fruit-growing programs, any gift of this size is a boon to the state. In fact, it is the largest private donation in the 120-year history of WSU, surpassing the $26 million committed last year by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to support animal research.

That can benefit all of Washington, which relies heavily upon the fruit business. The state is the nation’s top apple producer, and the tree fruit industry generates $6 billion annually in the state.

Increasingly, that business is tied to exports, as world markets grow ever more accessible. That is one of the reasons that the donation — and a healthy industry — is crucial to the state. As markets expand, so does competition, and Washington’s standing as a world leader in the industry is important to the state’s economy.

“We grow the best quality tree fruit in the world,” The Associated Press quoted Dan Newhouse, director of the state Department of Agriculture, as saying. “We need to be ready to respond to a changing marketplace, unknown pests and diseases, and other uncertainties we can’t anticipate.”

It is those unknowns that can pose the greatest threat. One year of damaged or diminished crops can have long-lasting effects.

Because of that, we offer kudos to the state’s fruit growers. Their foresight and generosity will pay dividends for generations. In an era when money is tight and “tax” is considered a four-letter word, the idea of a self-imposed levy is refreshing. The state’s apple and pear growers are taking a big-picture view of the future of their industry, offering up what should be considered an investment rather than a tax.

Not that the benefits of the gift end there. While the donation is beneficial for WSU and fruit growers and the economy of the state, it also will be helpful for consumers. At a time when there are concerns about the future of the world’s food supply, it is important to be mindful of the benefits of eating tree fruits:

• They are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants.

• Studies have shown that they can help protect against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

• They can decrease your risk of diabetes and promote heart health.

• They can help boost your immune system.

• And they are low in fat.

So, yes, there are numerous reasons to applaud the donation from growers to benefit the state’s tree fruit industry. But you’re from Washington — you already knew that.