Good Fruit Grower

December 2013

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Page 59 of 95

A passion for RESEARCH r. Jim McFerson does not subscribe to modern-day platitudes, such as There are no wrong answers or Everyone's a winner. Just give him the straight facts and do a good job of it. McFerson is manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which allocates more than $4 million annually in research funds and receives requests for far more than that. Researchers hoping for a piece of the funding submit proposals—short summaries of their project goals. The commission prefers to fund projects that match their research priorities, involve teams of multidisciplinary scientists, and have an extension component—so that growers can quickly benefit from the results. The element most often lacking in proposals is an economic analysis to show the potential costs and benefits, McFerson said. Researchers with the most promising proposals are invited to discuss their projects in more detail before an audience of research commissioners, advisory committee members, and industry representatives. In discussions managed by McFerson, woe betide the researcher who does not define his or her project well, does not have an extension component, shows slides with text in ten-point type or too many tables that the audience can't read, or otherwise performs poorly. The nine commissioners are growers, not scientists, and as the industry's production problems become more complex and the science more difficult, it is harder to find industry members willing to sit through a day or a day and a half of technical presentations, McFerson says. "It's particularly hard when researchers aren't concerned about connecting with the audience and give us presentations that are difficult to understand and evaluate," he said. "I think there's too much bullshit collegiality that goes on." D Jim McFerson is passionate about bringing the benefits of research and extension to the entire tree fruit industry—not just growers, but packers, marketers, and ancillary organizations. Uncaring McFerson doesn't vote on which proposals get funded, but it is his job to communicate the funding decisions. by Geraldine Warner "Unfortunately, as the manager of the commission and messenger of bad news to researchers who don't get funded, I'm often seen as an uncaring and difficult person to work with," he said. "I believe that my reputation would be seen as hard nosed and brusque, and aggressive—which is probably fair enough. Researchers get wrapped up in their world and their life and, understandably, when they're rejected for an application for funding it hurts. It means you can't do what you want to do in your program. Some people take it better than others. But if you're not given constructive criticism you aren't going to improve because you think everything's okay. There's a balance between making the person feel bullied or underachieving and challenging them to do a better job." Less funding McFerson said he enjoys working with good scientists and wants them to succeed. He recognizes that with less funding coming from both state and federal sources, scientists are suffering excruciating budget constraints. The assessment that growers pay to the commission for research is based on tonnage ($1 a ton for apples and pears and stone fruits, $4 a ton for cherries) so the total funding available will increase along with production, though slower than the need for funding as the commission receives more and more requests for larger and larger projects. 60 DECEMBER 2013 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Jim McFerson says he might seem brusque and uncaring, but he enjoys working with good researchers and wants them to

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