Michigan’s tree fruit producers have approved a referendum to establish the Michigan Tree Fruit Research & Development Program, and it was a landslide.
Of the 253 valid ballots received, 181 producers voted yes (72%) representing more than 544,000,000 pounds (81%) and 72 producers voted no (38%) representing more than 130,000,000 pounds (19%). For the program to be adopted, more than 50% of the producer votes cast and more than 50% of the total production amount represented on the cast ballots, had to approve the proposal.
The Michigan Tree Fruit Research and Development Program will be administered by a committee of nine members appointed by Governor Rick Snyder – and fully funded by assessments on apples, cherries, peaches, and plums. The program calls for a maximum assessment of $2.50 per ton for cherries sold; 4 cents per hundredweight for apples sold: $2.00 per ton for peaches sold; and $4.50 per ton for plums sold. The commission can use a sliding scale to set the assessment rate on any given year and vary the rate up and down as priorities are set by their spring meeting. The commission may set a lesser rate for categories of fruit with a lower grade or value.
The referendum was conducted from Feb. 17-28. Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Jamie Clover Adams made it official Tuesday when she signed off on the results. The effective date of the program is April 1.
Clover Adams said that the program was proposed to improve the economic position and competitiveness of the Michigan tree fruit industry by supporting the fruit research stations, research and Extension programs. The goal for this program is to keep Michigan’s tree fruit industry on the cutting edge of new technology as well as implementation of new research that keep Michigan’s farmers economically viable in the world market into the future.
When told of the referendum results, Michigan State University Extension educators Phil Schwallier and Amy Irish-Brown were pumped. “I think this is a wonderful event; it’s very important for the state’s tree fruit industry to take hold of its future,” said Schwallier. “It’s important to tax ourselves to help ourselves.”
Neither Schwallier nor Irish-Brown was surprised at the huge margin of victory. Irish-Brown said she’s heard only positive comments from growers, and in fact, a few said the assessments should have been even higher. The assessments are indicative of how money for research will be raised in the future, she said, as the industry will have to use its own money to leverage state or federal funds.
“It’s a pay-to-play mentality,” said Irish-Brown. “If you want something, you need to show it by putting in your own money.”
Dollars generated from fresh and processed cherries, apples, plums and peaches will be pooled to provide resources to Michigan’s fruit research stations, Michigan State University Extension field agents and campus specialists involved with tree fruit research and education. The intention of the commission is to acquire matching funds from Michigan legislature to increase the overall pool of dollars to support these ongoing efforts. The Michigan Tree Fruit Commission is separate from other established assessments for apples, cherries, peaches and plums. These new dollars would not replace the commodity-assessed funds that are used to support current production and promotion research.
The Michigan tree fruit industry has created this commission in response to a decline in resources. In the past 10 years, Michigan’s fruit research stations have experienced a nearly 50% loss of operating budgets. The Michigan Tree Fruit Commission is an innovative way to support ongoing research and Extension efforts to address inadequate funding that threatens to further regress research station infrastructure.
Michigan is unlike any other fruit-growing state, hence growers have relied on information produced by personnel in key MSU fruit positions. A similar but larger assessment program has been established in Washington, and as a result, the Washington apple, cherry and pear programs will become increasingly more competitive in the coming years. The Michigan Tree Fruit Commission will help ensure that Michigan growers will also be globally competitive into the future.
To review a copy of the Director’s Order and the Michigan Tree Fruit Research and Development Program, please visit www.michigan.gov/mdard.