YAKIMA, Wash. — Cherry and soft-fruit growers in Washington state will begin voting late this month on a proposal to expand research on their crops.

The state Department of Agriculture said ballots will go out about Dec. 26, asking whether growers want to create the special assessment on their production.

The proposal, developed by the Washington State Tree Fruit Research Commission, seeks $4 per ton for cherries and $1 per ton for soft fruits like peaches and nectarines. The special assessment is equal to what growers currently pay to fund research.

Completed ballots must be received or postmarked by Jan. 16 to be considered, said Kelly Frost, the agency’s coordinator for commodity commissions.

The assessment, if approved, would raise a maximum of $5 million over the next eight years.

Jim Doornink, a Parker Heights grower and chairman of the 43-year-old research commission, said should growers agree to the special assessment, it would allow the expansion of research programs.

The funds would establish endowments at Washington State University with the interest earnings used to create new research positions, expand technology transfer to producers and support research orchards. An endowment advisory committee would make recommendations on specific uses for the money.

The vote is the second time the issue has been submitted to cherry and soft-fruit growers. Producers failed to support a similar measure last year.

Apple and pear growers have voted in favor of the special assessment that will generate $27 million for research at WSU.

• David Lester can be reached at 509-577-7674 or dlester@yakimaherald.com.