The Michigan State Horticultural Society presented two Distinguished Service Awards during the 2022 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO banquet on Dec. 7. The awards were given to Steve Thome, an apple grower in Alpine Township, Michigan; and Bill Shane, an extension specialist and coordinator of Michigan State University’s Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center in Benton Harbor.
Shane was born in Watervliet, a small town in Southwest Michigan. His father co-owned a farm supply business and helped him acquire a summer job with a newly formed MSU tree fruit integrated pest management project. This led to an undergraduate degree in botany and plant pathology at MSU. Shane earned his master’s degree in plant pathology at North Carolina State University, focusing on tree fruit diseases, and later his doctorate in plant pathology from the University of Minnesota.
In 1992, Shane assumed the role of MSU district extension fruit production and marketing agent at the Southwest Michigan extension center. He currently serves as a senior extension tree fruit specialist and the station’s coordinator, and, in that role, he directs the MSU peach variety improvement program and guides the peach breeding program. He co-released the peach variety Beaumont with Amy Iezzoni, with more selections soon to be named and released.
Shane’s research and extension work has focused on discovering causes and solutions for disorders affecting crops. He has developed predictive models for disease and fruit maturity, including a peach maturity model. He has identified new insect pests and plant diseases, including the first reports of black stem borer and Asian garden beetle in Michigan tree fruit plantings. As an extension specialist, he has worked closely with the commercial fruit industry providing help with all aspects of commercial production.
Thome is a fifth-generation apple grower, tracing his roots back to 1846 in Alpine Township, part of the Fruit Ridge, Michigan’s largest apple-producing region. He took over day-to-day management of the family farm in 1997, following in his father Harold’s footsteps. Over the years, the farm raised fruits, vegetables, row crops, dairy and beef cattle before focusing on apples.
Thome spent two years after high school studying heavy equipment service at Ferris State University in Michigan and worked as a mechanic for a truck company for two years before returning to the farm.
Thome has served as president of the Michigan State Horticultural Society and chairman of the Michigan Apple Research Committee. He is currently serving on the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, Jack Brown Produce board of directors, and he chairs the Alpine Township Planning Commission.
—by Matt Milkovich