In the fall, many Washingtonians visit orchards. Last week, I was one of them.

My trip to Central Washington centered around the dedication of a new Washington State University tree fruit research orchard near Rock Island. The work that will be done there, and will continue in the main research labs in Wenatchee, provides a good illustration of what WSU must do to support the economy and a way of life in our state.

Tree fruit, of course, is big business in Washington. An independent study of the tree fruit industry found that the industry as a whole produces $6 billion in economic value and more than 140,000 jobs in the state.

Just looking at apples, Washington will produce more than 5 billion pounds this year, about 58 percent of the nation’s total. At a time when we are concerned about competing internationally, it is worth noting that about 90 percent of American apples that are exported come from Washington. Last year, for example, Washington sent 1.4 million boxes of apples to India.

All those orchards also offer spectacular opportunities for families to explore the countryside and spend part of a beautiful fall day buying apples or pressing their own cider.

If you are not involved in the tree fruit industry, or in agriculture in general, you might think that it has a sort of timeless quality. In truth, agriculture is a most dynamic industry. Without the latest and best research, its strength can be eroded by foreign competition.

That’s why I was particularly pleased to take part in last week’s ceremonies. Our Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center has an outstanding record of providing the research necessary to keep pace with consumer demand while protecting our environment. To cite just one example, work done by WSU researchers over the years has allowed fruit growers to dramatically reduce pesticide use in their orchards. In fact, more than half of the acres in the new research orchard will make up the nation’s largest certified organic apple research program.

The public-private partnerships we see in our tree fruit research efforts, and in agricultural research more generally, allow WSU to keep in close touch with the needs of the industry while maximizing the impact of the dollars we have to invest.

The day we begin to take our agricultural legacy for granted is the day that we will begin to lose it. Last week’s dedication is one sign that WSU is not going to let that happen.