Washington tree fruit growers will be voting on an initiative that would raise $32 million for research.

The Campaign for Tree Fruit could mark the start of a new era in how growers relate to Washington State researchers.

“It could have a huge impact on research and extension for the industry,” said Desmond O’Rourke, president of Belrose Inc., Pullman, Wash.

The grower-funded program is supported by a leadership committee that includes West Mathison of Stemilt Growers, Harold Austin of Zirkle Fruit Co., and Stuart McDougall of McDougall & Sons. Its goal is to raise $32 million in grower assessments in eight years or less. The project will be funded by a rate of $1 per ton on apples, pears and soft fruit and $4 per ton on cherries.

The assessments, if approved, will establish a $12 million endowment in to support six endowed chairs at Washington State University, a $12 million endowment to establish six new positions in tree fruit regions to help growers adopt new technology. An $8 million endowment will support dedicated research orchards in Prosser and Wenatchee and enhance evaluation of cutting-edge technologies and practices.

Exact dates of the voting were not known in early August, but grower voting will occur over a several week period from about Aug. 10 to Aug. 31. The results of the referendum may be known by mid-September, said Jay Brunner, director of the Washington State Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, Wenatchee.

The campaign calls for an advisory committee appointed by tree fruit industry organizations to oversee all industry endowed programs and have direct and regulator input to the dean of the Washington State University College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources.

Proponents say that the return on every dollar invested by the tree fruit industry in research returns $9 in benefit in 2011.

Washington fruit campaign seeks $32 million for research“We’re not in it for the research papers, we want to have an impact and we want a profitable, sustainable industry,” said Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, Wenatchee. Wash.

McFerson said the traditional extension service is no longer equipped to assist growers.

“In Washington, we have 2.7 extension full-time equivalents to serve our tree fruit industry,” he said. “We have 250,000 acres, so that is 100,000 acres per extension professional.:

McFerson said the industry is “way beyond” the good old days.”We’ve got to change,” he said.

If the measure passes, O’Rourke said Oregon, California and other agriculture-oriented states may attempt similar measures.

O’Rourke in late July that preliminary polls were supportive, he said.

“It has been a reasonable year return wise, so usually (growers) feel more generous when prices are strong,” he said.