Skip to main content Skip to navigation


From Branch Agricultural Station to Research and Extension Center

news article about the signing of the bill establishing the Ag-substation at Wenatchee.
Article about the signing of the bill establishing the Ag station in Wenatchee as part of Washington State College.

The Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center (TFREC or Center) was created over 70 years ago by the Washington State legislature. Although research on tree fruit production problems had been conducted by several researchers from Washington State College and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, no formal research facility existed during the early part of the century. In 1921, a group of growers in Wenatchee began a movement to obtain a tree fruit experiment station; in 1936, the Washington State Horticultural Association formed a committee to lobby the legislature for purchase of a research orchard. A bill to establish an experiment station in Wenatchee as a part of Washington State College was passed by both houses and signed by the governor on February 25, 1937. It included an appropriation of $62,500. The state currently provides an annual budget (including USDA building and Physical Plant) to support research and education activities at the Center.

The initial land purchase was made in October 1937 and included a farmhouse and 15 acres of orchard. Subsequent land acquisitions increased the size of the main research campus in Wenatchee to 102 acres with an additional 92 acres located 12 miles north in Douglas County. The farmhouse served as the administrative building and contained some laboratories until 1967 when it was replaced by a modern laboratory facility. In 1977 a new facility was built on the TFREC campus to house USDA-ARS scientists.

As urbanization in Wenatchee threatened the research capabilities of the Wenatchee acreage, most of the research orchard in Wenatchee was sold and replaced with a new developed, 150 acre orchard in Moses Coulee, Douglas Co.

Original Station Office and lab circa winter 1948.
The original office and lab circa 1948.

The TFREC is affiliated with Washington State University as a part of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. Comprehensive research projects are conducted by Washington State University and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) collaborating scientists in all phases of orchard culture, pest control, fruit harvesting and handling, fruit maturity, storage, grading and packaging. These programs also include basic science aspects of plant physiology, entomology, plant pathology, soil science, horticulture, economics and biochemistry.

Research scientists of the USDA-ARS have collaborative appointments at Washington State University, and their research programs are conducted in cooperation with TFREC based programs. These programs are also coordinated with statewide WSU research projects and with regional, national and international programs of other federal agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency.

Washington is the number one state in production of apples, pears and sweet cherries, producing more than half (52%) of all apples, 45% of sweet cherries, and 38% of all pears in the U.S. Fruit crops are produced on nearly 225,000 acres in Washington, and apples are the dominant crop with 155,000 bearing acres. This state¼s six major orchard crops had a 1996 farm gate value of over $1.2 billion. Apples accounted for nearly $0.95 billion. After these crops were handled, stored, graded, and packed or processed, their wholesale or FOB shipping value was over $2 billion.

The research and educational programs of the Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center have contributed substantially to the growth, stability and present stature of Washington¼s tree fruit industry. The primary mission of this Center is to develop new knowledge and technology through innovative research programs and to transfer this information and technology in a way that strengthens Washington¼s fruit industry, promotes international competitiveness, provides a safe and high quality supply of fresh fruit, a safe workplace, and enhances the quality of the environment.

Dr. Fred Overley standing in front of the original building. He was the first superindent leading the station from 1940 – 1950.

Faculty at the Center are supported by a very competent staff including research technologists (16), administrative professionals (3), secretaries (2), farm crew (6), and custodial and maintenance personnel (4). In addition, several graduate students are housed at the Center each year to conduct research for their advanced degrees. Postdoctoral research associates expand research opportunities as funding permits. Many visiting scientists from other states and foreign countries have taken the opportunity to spend study leaves or extended professional development at the Center. This mix of faculty, staff, graduate students, post-doctoral research associates and visiting scientists has provided for broad research programs.

Principal physical facilities at the TFREC include the following:

  • The F. L. Overley Laboratory, 1100 North Western Avenue, Wenatchee, is the Center’s headquarters and houses most of the WSU researchers, including laboratories for horticulture, plant physiology, soil science, entomology and plant pathology.
  • The USDA Tree Fruit Research Laboratory building is located immediately to the west of the Overley building and includes offices, laboratories and fruit storages for USDA research in plant pathology, plant physiology and postharvest horticulture.
  • Other major facilities include an entomology laboratory building, entomology greenhouses, soils-horticulture laboratory and greenhouses, USDA plant pathology laboratory, and USDA fruit packing building, plus a number of service shops, heating plant, storage buildings and residences.

The three properties operated by the TFREC comprise more than 200 acres in total. The main research campus site in Wenatchee (Chelan County) contains 12 acres used for buildings, roads, parking and storage.

The Columbia View site near Orondo, in Douglas County, consists of approximately 52 acres, of which 46 acres are in research orchards. The orchard land at Columbia View is shared equally between TFREC and USDA research programs, with about 23 acres available to each unit.

Sunrise Orchard, located between East Wenatchee and Orondo is the newest research acreage. The 150 acre, located in the mouth of Moses Coulee, was developed in partnership with the Washington Tree Fruit Commission.

Research programs at the TFREC emphasize primarily apples, pears and sweet cherries although some research is conducted on apricots, peaches and plums. Research is also conducted in orchards of cooperating growers throughout the major fruit production areas of Washington. Production and postharvest research by USDA scientists is also conducted in grower orchards and in cooperation with fruit packinghouses.