WSU extension, station in Prosser looking to grow

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldDecember 8, 2012 

PROSSER -- Almost three quarters of a million dollars in construction is taking place at Washington State University's Prosser extension and research station as it expands its programs and staffing.

Three modular buildings will house offices for the Washington AgWeatherNet, a monitoring service used by the state's producers, as well as the Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems, which develops efficiencies for the tree fruit industry. Three new growing shelters will be used for research into hops, grapes and tree fruit.

But officials at the Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, or IAREC, are stressing that the office space only is a temporary solution. The center is requesting $6 million from the Legislature in January to build permanent structures.

"We wouldn't want to send the message this is the solution," said Pete Jacoby, the center's director and associate dean for WSU's College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, of the temporary buildings.

Jacoby, who splits his time between Prosser and WSU's Pullman campus, has headed the Prosser center since 2009 and has worked to advance its programs and research. AgWeatherNet is on track to quadruple its staffing level compared to where it was three years ago, he said.

The Prosser center also is the beneficiary of a $27 million gift from the tree fruit industry that ultimately will pay for six endowed professorships, two of which already have been established, Jacoby said.

Jeff Lunden, facilities manager at the Prosser center, said the expansion of program and staffing has led to some cramped working conditions, with some faculty and staff having to set up offices in lab space.

"It's not a good use of the space," he said.

The temporary office buildings cost about $226,000 to install. Two of the them will be designated for AgWeatherNet, which monitors 140 data collection stations across the state to help producers anticipate weather and other crop concerns.

The Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems will use the other temporary building. Jacoby said the program is attracting graduate students and post-doctoral researchers.

"We're very excited in our growth," he said.

Three new growing shelters are costing a little under $500,000 to build. They'll be used for research into plant pathology and other projects.

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