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Michigan grows diversity of crops including fruits and vegetables

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 01/24/2013 12:42 PM

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. —Michigan, home to the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo, is a diverse agricultural state, said Bob Tritten, Michigan State University Extension District fruit educator.

"Michigan is second to California in terms of the number and volume of crops we raise," Tritten said. "For fruits and vegetables, we have a wonderful climate, good soil, infrastructure with processing that's done here and a lot of wholesalers who are based here."

Michigan is a fruit state because of Lake Michigan and other lakes.

"Our best fruit sites are much warmer in the winter," he said. "The fruit buds are able to survive cold weather. We're known for our tart cherry industry, and we're usually third in apple production, fifth or sixth in peach production, first in blueberry production, and we also have sweet cherries, strawberries, raspberries and a fair amount of grape production."

The state also has a diverse vegetable industry.

"In Michigan we have a fair amount of muck soils, and these are wonderful for growing a lot of the vegetable crops," Tritten said.

Michigan has 40 traditional old farm markets, and in the last five years there has been an explosion of smaller farmers markets across the state. There are now more than 200 markets in Michigan. The new farmers markets have been innovative.

"It's been wonderful for our fruit and vegetable specialty farmers because many of their customers are looking for local food," Tritten said. "Customers are trying to support local agriculture as best they can. They know that buying local keeps their money in the community."

Tritten said that the Great Lakes Expo, held in Grand Rapids, draws more than 4,000 farmers and 400 exhibitors from across the country. It's the place for farmers to learn about specialty crops.

The expo is run by the Michigan State Horticultural Society and the Michigan Vegetable Council Inc. in cooperation with Michigan State University Extension. The educational component, 40 sessions over three days, is mostly put together by Extension educators and Extension specialists on campus at MSU.

Tritten organizes expo sessions as well as the Michigan Apple Cider Contest.

Apple and peach growers suffered through their toughest year ever in 2012, Tritten said. Killing frosts in April caused significant crop loss.

Entries in this year's Michigan Apple Cider Contest were just 23 compared to 45 in a normal year. This years winners were Jim and Becky Engelsma of Engelsma's Apple Barn, Walker, Mich.

"Next year we expect to have an abundant crop of apples and we hope consumers will come back to orchards, cider mills and farm markets," Tritten said.