Building a new research station from scratch is a rare thing, but it’s happening in West-central Michigan. Fruit and asparagus growers in the region have partnered with Michigan State University this year to build a new facility housing offices, conference rooms and laboratory facilities in Hart, Michigan.
The last time an MSU research station was built from the ground up was in 1989, when the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center was built, said Doug Buhler, director of MSU AgBioResearch, which oversees the university’s network of agricultural experiment stations.
Creation of the new facility, which will serve Oceana, Mason and Newaygo counties, has been driven by local growers, who recently formed a nonprofit group called West Central Michigan Horticultural Research (WCMHR). The growers wanted a facility that could conduct research specific to West-central Michigan’s sandy soils and temperate climate, said David Jones, the local tree fruit extension educator.
“They felt that this area is unique in its climate and soils, to the degree that they have struggled to use recommendations developed in other areas, particularly the Ridge,” Jones said.
With financial help from industry groups, local businesses and a state grant, the group purchased an existing 40-acre orchard next to the Michigan Asparagus Industry Research Farm. Construction of the facility was scheduled to begin this spring.
“The priority of the station is to do variety and rootstock trials that will benefit growers, particularly for apples,” Jones said. “One of the most common questions I get is from young growers who say they want to put in acreage of Wildfire Gala or Royal Red Honeycrisp, and what’s the best rootstock for the area? We really don’t have that information, which is sorely needed by the local industry.”
The basic agreement calls for the local community to finance the land, buildings and most of the equipment for the new station, and for MSU to provide staff, some operating funds and certain equipment. MSU and industry representatives are working on a detailed plan for land use, Buhler said.
Andy Riley, president of WCMHR’s governing board, said they’re still encouraging growers, industry groups and businesses to donate to the facility. For more information, call Patricia Parsons at 231-861-6333, ext. 294, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
—by Matt Milkovich