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Bill includes $2.4 million for fruit research station

August 05, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A federal spending bill that contains $2.4 million for U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored fruit research in Kearneysville, W.Va., has passed the Senate.

The fiscal year 2010 Department of Agriculture appropriations bill includes $2 million for the Agriculture Research Service's Appalachian Fruit Research Station (AFRS) in Kearneysville, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., announced Wednesday in a news release.

Another $400,000 is included in the bill to support the hiring of a computer vision engineer/scientist and support staff for the station, according to the release.

The $2 million would pay for design completion and construction of an expansion to the laboratory and specialized research space at the station. The proposed expansion will incorporate new environmentally friendly fruit production technologies that would allow U.S. producers to remain competitive in global markets.

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The new scientist and support staff will work to develop components of robotic systems for automating fruit production and handling processes, and to develop pest-only targeted spray technology in tree fruits.

About 95 percent of the state's commercial fruit industry is in Berkeley, Jefferson, Hampshire and Morgan counties, according to West Virginia University's Kearneysville Tree Fruit Research and Education Center.

The preliminary 2009 forecast for peach production is 5,300 tons, down about 5 percent from 2008, but about 1,100 tons higher than in 2007, WVU Extension Specialist Henry W. Hogmire said Wednesday.

"The size is very good," Hogmire said of the peach crop, which is being harvested.

The apple production forecast was not available Wednesday.

Aside from frost conditions in April and some hail in the area, Hogmire said the growing season has been "really good" because rainfall was timely.

In 2008, more than 2.4 million bushels of apples and peaches were harvested in West Virginia, worth more than $12 million, according to statistics compiled by Tree Fruit Research and Education Center.

"The work taking place at the AFRS is critical to commercial orchards in staying competitive within the global marketplace and in keeping up-to-date with new technology for implementing environmentally safe practices on the farm," West Virginia Horticultural Society president Mark Orr said in the release. "The "green" technologies being researched at AFRS are not only important to growers, but to the consumer and the general public."

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