YAKIMA, Wash. — Washington producers of cherries and stone fruits have agreed to contribute more money to research over the next several years.

Growers approved a referendum measure that will see an additional $5 million maximum collected for projects at Washington State University.

The Washington state Department of Agriculture, which conducted the election on behalf of the state Tree Fruit Research Commission, released the results Tuesday.

The agency said 59 percent of cherry growers and 68 percent of stone-fruit growers approved the increase.

Jim McFerson, commission manager, said the outcome will keep cherry and stone-fruit growers at the forefront of research.

“This outcome generates the capacity for our industry to stay competitive in a global marketplace,” he said.

The assessments — $4 per ton on cherries and $1 per ton on peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums — will double what growers currently provide until the maximum $5 million figure is reached.

The money will be used to establish endowments at WSU with interest earnings allocated to create new research positions, expand technology transfer to producers and support research orchards at Prosser and Wenatchee.

Growers turned down a similar request in 2011 at the same time apple and pear growers agreed to an assessment increase that will generate $27 million for research in the years ahead. The Washington State Fruit Commission asked the measure be conducted a second time in hopes growers would change their minds given additional information.

Gip Redman, who chairs the fruit commission, said the outcome shows growers saw the importance of making research investments.

“Now the entire Washington tree fruit industry is involved in the efforts on our behalf at the WSU research and extension centers in Prosser and Wenatchee — efforts which keep our industries globally competitive,” Redman said in a university news release.

The Agriculture Department said 569 grower ballots were returned on the cherry referendum. A total of 338 grower ballots approved the increase. Of the 47 stone fruit ballots returned, 32 supported the increase, the department said.

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