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State Budget Relieves WSU Ag Equipment Crisis

PULLMAN, Wash. — James Zuiches, dean of Washington State University’s College of Agriculture and Home Economics, said in a statement released today that the new state budget will greatly reduce his college’s agricultural field equipment crisis.

“We are very pleased with the legislature’s appropriation of $2 million to replace old research equipment,” Zuiches said. We simply could not continue to operate much longer with inadequate research equipment. We are relieved that the legislature and Governor Gary Locke recognized that high priority need.”

The budget included $1.5 million for the Agricultural Research Center for agricultural equipment and $500,000 to meet the college’s research and extension equipment needs.

“The statewide farm organizations, commodity commissions and agricultural associations recognized the need and argued the case for WSU. I especially appreciated the leadership of the Washington Wheat Commission and the Hop Growers of Washington on this issue,” said Zuiches.

“We are grateful for the funds that the leadership in both the House and the Senate approved,” Zuiches said, “because lack of modern research equipment is prohibiting us from doing the field research necessary to support Washington’s $5 billion agricultural industry.”

Just how desperate had the equipment situation become?

  • Employees at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture and Extension Center near Prosser rely on a bulldozer so old an antique collector wants to buy it.
  • A 1941 fork lift used to handle large bins of fruit during harvest sits disabled at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center at Wenatchee because parts can not be found to repair its updraft carburetor.
  • The Prosser center is still using a 1952 Austin Wetin road grader, obtained as Korean War surplus. It is one of only three still existing in the world.
  • A dragline necessary to clean settlement ponds in the irrigation system at the Prosser station is a 1951 model, military surplus.
  • The ‘new’ crawler tractor used in farming operations at the Prosser Station is a 1961 D7.
  • A 1981 Ford Econoline work van sits idle at the Puyallup center because someone stole the electrical cable connection to the central process unit. The engine won’t run without the CPU connection cable. The part isn’t made any more and WSU maintenance workers can’t even find one in a junk yard. Apparently neither could the person who stole the part from the WSU vehicle.

Zuiches said tractors have gone the same way as the automobile industry. Parts and service simply aren’t available for older models.

A recent equipment study revealed that state-wide WSU needs to replace more than 500 out of 800 pieces of field equipment soon. The average age of the equipment is 22 years. Zuiches said, “This replacement program will need to continue for at least 10 years.”

The equipment problem isn’t limited to ancient machinery, however. In some situations, only recently designed equipment can do the job. At Wenatchee, for instance, farm staff don’t have the smaller farm equipment necessary to work new high-density orchard plantings. Large tractors, sprayers and other equipment are breaking limbs off of fruit trees.

“Washington’s $750 million apple industry is 40 years ahead of the university in its field equipment,” Zuiches said. “We are doing orchard field work with tractors, sprayers and other equipment designed for cultural practices of 40 years ago when orchardists grew 100-120 trees per acre.

“Today you can find commercial plantings of up to 1,500 trees per acre and 800-1,200 trees per acre are common. WSU has managed to maintain plantings of 400-500 trees per acre, but we can’t even approach the lower end of today’s high density commercial plantings.”

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