Wenatchee’s campus of the Washington State University Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center got its start in 1921 with a request for help from growers here.
Washington State University, the state’s land-grant university in Pullman opened in 1892, tasked with educating citizens in agriculture, mechanical arts and homemaking.
The geographic differences in the state prompted what Jim McFerson calls a “disaggregated structure” of research centers and extensions offices stretching from Mount Vernon to Prosser, each with its own faculty and program and a research focus suited to the region.
Wenatchee’s focus is on apples and tree fruit, and always has been, but that could evolve in the future.
“The wine grape and berry industries are growing here,” McFerson said. “The cannabis industry is another possibility in the future, as is ornamentals and other nursery plants.”
Prosser’s focus is on irrigated agriculture, wine grapes, blueberries and hops.
McFerson is the director of the research and extension center in Wenatchee, which established the campus at 1100 N. Western Ave. in 1937 with the purchase of a 15-acre orchard and a farmhouse.
The “new” building, Overley Laboratory, was built in 1967 to house WSU faculty and staff.
It currently includes 12 faculty, 45 program staff, 20 graduate students, five field staff, four operations staff and three administrative staff.
In 1978, the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Agriculture Research Service facility was added on the same property. It currently houses five USDA-ARS scientists and 15 technical and support staff.
The main campus has a small orchard, greenhouses and laboratory space. WSU also owns two research orchards in Douglas County — the 92-acre Columbia View Research Orchard in Orondo and the Sunrise Research Orchard near Spanish Castle.
All of the scientists have access to the orchards for experiments that can take five years or more.
“It’s a living laboratory,” McFerson said.