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In western Michigan, the center of the state’s fresh apple industry is located on a geographic landmark known as the Ridge.

At its 1,010-foot apex, the Ridge is a slow, roll in the otherwise flat Midwest topography just north of Grand Rapids that allows for cool air drainage. Combine that with nearby Lake Michigan’s tempering effect on weather, the Ridge is well suited for fresh fruit production.

Crews at Tom Rasch & Sons demonstrate the use of a machine to stretch color foil on both sides of a Honeycrisp apple alley Sunday, July 16, 2017, during the International Tree Fruit Association Summer Tour in Western Michigan. Photo by Ross Courtney/GFG

About 80 percent of the state’s fresh market apples are sold through sales desks in this area, the region boasts the highest concentration of on-the-farm apple storage facilities in the world.

Organizers with the International Tree Fruit Association chose the Ridge as the venue for the group’s annual summer tour. Four tour buses full of conference growers learned about precision crop load management at Wittenbach Orchards in Belding, saw a motorized color foil stretcher at Tom Rasch & Sons in Greenville and learned how netting affected fruit set at Schwallier Country Basket in Sparta.

Surprisingly, it didn’t. Trees netted off from honey bees at pink bloom had just as much fruit as those with no netting. This region of Michigan suffered an unusually harsh frost in May that may explain the unexpected results, said Phillip Schwallier, owner of the family farm and a Michigan State University extension specialist.

The list went on and will continue Monday and Tuesday with more stops on and around the Ridge.