Michigan tree fruit producers will have an opportunity to vote on whether to continue the Michigan Tree Fruit Research & Development Program in a referendum conducted by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Feb. 11-22, 2019.
Ballots will be mailed by MDARD to Michigan apple, cherry, peach, and plum producers of record. Eligible producers with questions, or those not receiving a ballot, should contact MDARD toll-free at 800-292-3939.
The Michigan Tree Fruit Research & Development Program, more commonly known as the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission (MTFC), was developed to improve the economic position and competitiveness of the Michigan tree fruit industry by supporting the fruit research stations, research, and extension programs.
According to Michigan Farm Bureau Commodity Department Manager Ernie Birchmeier, the program was designed to keep Michigan’s tree fruit industry on the cutting edge of new technology as well as help implement new research that keeps Michigan’s farmers economically viable in the world market.
“The Michigan Tree Fruit Commission was instrumental over the past five years in securing infrastructure improvements to the Michigan State University horticulture stations around the state, which were desperately needed, in addition to identifying research priorities,” Birchmeier said. “If Michigan fruit growers around the state want to continue this valuable collaborative effort, it’s imperative that they take the time to vote.”
Doug Buhler, director of Michigan State University’s AgBioResearch, credited MTFC for entrusting MSU with the responsibility of delivering research and extension information to growers.
“Grower contributions to our research facilities underscore the important relationship that has developed over time,” Buhler said. “In just a few years, the MTFC has strengthened that bond by positioning us to meet long-term grower needs.”
According to Buhler, tractors, sprayers, orchard platforms, deer fencing, irrigation controllers and pruning equipment have been purchased for all four MSU research centers including a significant investment in a small-scale apple grading line for use by researchers and MSU Extension educators.
The program is a public body independent of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and is comprised of nine tree fruit producers appointed by the governor. MDARD Director Gary McDowell and a person appointed by the dean of Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources are non-voting ex-officio members.
The program, first approved in 2014, must be renewed every five years. Currently, Michigan tree fruit may be assessed at a maximum rate of $2.50 per ton for cherries sold; 4 cents per cwt for apples sold; $2.00 per ton for peaches sold; and $4.50 per ton for plums sold.
Grower dollars are legislatively matched, dollar for dollar, by the state of Michigan resulting in a combined total of more than $5.8 million dollars earmarked for tree fruit research.
The commission can use a sliding scale to set the assessment rate each year during its spring meeting, adjusting the rate as priorities are set. The commission may set a lesser rate for categories of fruit with a lower grade or value. If passed, the program would be sent back to the producers every five years for a continuation referendum.
For the program to be renewed, more than 50 percent of the producer votes cast, representing more than 50 percent of the total number of bushels represented on the cast ballots, must approve it.
For the purpose of this referendum, each producer, partnership, or corporation is entitled to one vote. All ballots must be filled out completely, signed, and postmarked by Feb. 22, 2019, and should be sent to MDARD, Executive Office, P.O. Box 30017, Lansing, MI 48909.