The Michigan State Horticultural Society presented two Distinguished Service Awards during the 2023 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO banquet on Dec. 6. The awards were given to Greg Lang, Michigan State University professor and tree fruit physiologist, and Bill Erwin, longtime owner of Erwin Orchards in South Lyon, Michigan. Lang was unable to attend the banquet.
Lang was born in Ohio but grew up in Georgia, where he studied ornamental horticulture at the University of Georgia. During his junior year, he saw large-scale tree fruit production in California and Montana, and he changed his major to pomology. He earned his master’s and doctorate degrees studying plant physiology in tree fruits at the University of California, Davis. He joined Louisiana State University in 1986, where he taught fruit production and studied blueberry production and peach dormancy. At LSU he met his wife, Suzanne, an assistant professor of ornamental horticulture physiology.
In 1993, the Langs joined Washington State University, where he was an associate professor in tree fruits. Some of his research involved collaborations with MSU professors. In 1999, MSU offered the Langs each faculty positions at the university, and they moved to Michigan.
At MSU, Lang’s responsibilities focused on various aspects of physiological tree fruit research and extension, mostly involving sweet and tart cherries but also apple rootstocks, bitter pit in Honeycrisp and production system innovations for peaches, plums and apricots. In recent years, he has taught a senior-level class called Exploring Wines and Vines.
Over the past 20 years, Lang pioneered orchard innovations that have made consistent production of high-value, high-quality and labor-intensive fresh-market sweet cherries feasible — including fruiting-wall orchard training systems that facilitate greater labor efficiency and future mechanization; precision management innovations such as canopy mapping, smart sprayers and robotics; and orchard covering systems to improve crop quality, consistency and tree health. He is frequently invited to speak about his work around the world, providing opportunities to bring additional ideas back to Michigan growers.
Lang has served as one of the organizational leaders of Great Lakes Fruit Workers since 2007, as educational coordinator for the Great Lakes EXPO’s fruit education programs since 2019, and as education director of the International Fruit Tree Association since 2020.
Erwin started growing apples on the family farm when he was 11. On his third day, he was fired by his grandfather — who said he was not worth 50 cents per hour. He was hired back the next day, showed improvement, and the rest is history.
His grandfather, James N. Erwin, planted his first tree in 1920. For half a century, their apples were mostly sold wholesale through Detroit’s Eastern Market. By the late 1970s, the family branched into direct-market sales by offering U-pick apples, pumpkins, sweet cherries, raspberries, asparagus and saskatoon berries.
They opened a country store and farm market in 1997 and gradually added agritainment activities including a play area, hay maze, corn maze, 3D barn and haunted attractions.
Erwin served on the Michigan State Horticultural Society’s executive board from 1992 to 1998, serving as president in 1998. He worked with MSU on various horticultural projects, including pheromone disruption and mite control. He is a founding member of the Michigan Cider Makers Guild.
—by Matt Milkovich