History of the Center

Historical background

The Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center (TFREC or Center) was created over 80 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 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.

Affiliation and research focus

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 horticulture, 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 WSU 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 USDA National Institutes for Food & Agriculture.

Washington’s fruit industry

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. Washington’s orchard crops are worth more than $2.5 billion farmgate value annually.  

Contributions to the industry

The research and educational programs of the Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center have contributed substantially to the growth, stability and present stature of Washington’s 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 Washington’s 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.

Diverse research community

Faculty at the Center are supported by a very competent staff including research technologists, administrative professionals, farm and maintenance personnel. In addition, approximately 25-30 graduate students and post-doctoral research associates are housed at the Center each year to conduct research for their advanced degrees.  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 and representation from all over the world (more than 20 countries).

Principal physical facilities

  • 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 Fruit Handling and Cold Storage 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 Quincy is the newest research acreage. The 150 acre, located in the mouth of Moses Coulee, was developed in partnership with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission.

Research focus areas

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.

History Gallery

Past Center Directors

  • Dr. Fred L. Overley, 1940-1950
  • Dr. Archie Van Doren 1950-1962
  • Dr. Robert C. Lindner 1962-1968
  • Dr. Nels Benson (interim) Aug. 1968 – Nov. 1968
  • Dr. Paul Larsen 1968 – 1982
  • Dr. Everett Burts (interim) 1982-1983
  • Dr. Stanley Hoyt 1983-1993
  • Dr. Don Elfving 1993-1997
  • Dr. Jay F. Brunner 1997-2015
  • Dr. James McFerson 2015-2019
  • Dr. Kate Evans (interim) 2019-2020
  • Chad Kruger 2020-current

LOG graphic showing an apple, pear, and cherry sitting on a green background surrounded by the TFREC name.
This is the original “unofficial” logo of the Center used on hats and t-shirts for many years.
news article about the signing of the bill lestablishing 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 original office and lab circa 1948.
Superintendent Overley standing at the base of the steps to the original building.
Dr. Fred Overley standing in front of the original building. He was the first superintendent leading the station from 1940 – 1950.
Original Tree Fruit Experiment Station building.
This remained the primary office for the station until the Overley building was constructed.
TFREC Overley Lab circa 1980
The Overley Laboratory Building was constructed in 1975.

People from the past

Flying farmers visit station for field day in 1946.
The station held a viewing of experimental work (field day) as part of the Flying Farmers Tour in 1946. Supt. FL Overley can be seen in the front center of image, wearing a watch fob.
The Flying Farmers during a 1946 visit to the Wenatchee Tree Fruit Experiment Station. Also shown are Director M. T. Buchanan (center, kneeling) and Supt. F. L. Overley (right, standing).
Group image of visiting legislators 1946.
A visit by state legislators on 5 May 1946. The first two at the left are Supt. Overley and Dean EC Johnson; second from right is Richard Young; third from the right is William O’Neil.
1951 field day presenters.
the presenters at a 1951 Field Day at the station. Left to right: FL Overley, Bill Luce (seated), LJ Richardson, A VanDoran, and Dick Bullock.
Dr. Overley standing in front of the old office building.
Dr. Fred Overley standing in front of the original building. He was the first superintendent leading the station from 1940 – 1950. Note the stations name on the building sign.
1950s era female chemist using titration equipment.
An anonymous chemistry technician at TFES circa 1950s.

Facilites and farm over the years

view of the original lab building circa 1970.
The laboratory was built in 1946. The building had three floors including a basement necessitating a freight elevator. Attached greenhouses and annex building came next. Since it mostly housed entomology programs, it became known as the Entomology bulding. This is a view from Springwater and Western Ave. image circa 1970.
backside of the entomology building.
Westside of the Entomology building where the roof of the elevator shaft is still present. image circa 1990. the elevator was later decommissioned and the space repurposed.
Current-day view of the lab building
The laboratory referred to as the Entomology building until 2019 when renamed as the Hoyt Building (hidden behind the gray shed). The southeast lawn was gradually replaced by demonstration gardens maintained by the Master Gardeners Program.
Hoyt-Entomology building viewed from Western Ave.
The Hoyt-Entomology building “front entrance” facing Western Ave. taken in 2020.
orchard blocks.
Just west of the shop area and main center campus there were several areas of research blocks. This was sold to help purchase the Sunrise Research Orchard located south of Rock Island. Circa 2008.
trellised new tree planting.
Newer research block at the Sunrise Research Orchard (SRO). circa 2016.

Recent past field days

group of researchers and industry people at the field day poster session.
The first SRO field day was 2011. There were several live presentations around the farm and a poster session (shown here) at the covered shop area. The event colminated with at BBQ for all attendees. Left to right: Geraldine Warner, Good Fruit Grower; Jim McFerson, Director of WTFRC; Mike Willet, VP for Science, Northwest Horticultural Council; Jay Brunner, Director of TFREC; Vince Jones, WSU Entomology & DAS creator.
Dr. Brunner and President Floyd standing at field day event
Center directer Jay Brunner discussing the future of the new Sunrise Research Orchard prior to the start of the 2011 field day event.
participant sit at microscopes learning to identify insects.
The mobile units at SRO have a variety of uses including this natural enemies identification workshop held in 2012.
industry fieldmen standing in an apple orchard listening to student instructor.
The SRO orchard has also been used for teaching opportunities. Former TFREC graduation student Teah Smith explains how to sample for various natural enemies in the organic apple block.