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Peach breeder Bill Shane (left) and Michigan Peach Sponsors President Kurt Weber enjoyed the annual educational meeting they jointly prepared.

Peach breeder Bill Shane (left) and Michigan Peach Sponsors President Kurt Weber enjoyed the annual educational meeting they jointly prepared.

Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

Over the last 20 years, Michigan Peach Sponsors has provided more than $100,000 in support of Dr. Bill Shane’s peach-breeding program. It was an important contributor in the effort to save his elite breeding lines when they were otherwise doomed by discovery of plum pox at his breeding site in 2006.

Michigan Peach Sponsors is a true grassroots organization—as evidenced by the fact that nobody remembers its roots. Kurt Weber, who grows about 40 acres of peaches at Weber Orchards near ­Benton Harbor and is currently the Michigan Peach Sponsors president, said it started 60 or 70 years ago when Michigan peach growers would get together at a restaurant in South Haven and talk about peaches. It evolved from there.

Now, it has 57 members, two-thirds are growers, the rest chemical company representatives, nurserymen, and others with similar interests.

“Peach growers are always looking for something better,” Weber said. “They want a steady stream of peaches they can sell from mid-July to mid-September. It’s hard to compete unless you have peaches with better size, color, and flavor. The old varieties have just too many faults.”

Matt Moser, who runs Moser’s Fruit Tree Sales, a member since the 1970s, has held office several times and is currently secretary-treasurer.

He recalls that after the era of Stanley Johnston, who developed the Haven peach series, ­Michigan’s breeding efforts shifted toward cherries and away from peaches. When Bill Shane came aboard in 1992, Michigan Peach Sponsors became enthusiastic supporters of his program.

Weber describes the relationship with Michigan State University, and especially with Extension, as “close and good.” Bill Shane does more than just breed peaches, Weber said. He provides a lot of the glue that holds the Michigan peach industry together.