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Benton Harbor-based agency receives federal grants to help fruit growers

AP Photo/Casey Smith

Last month, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced over $3 million  in USDA grants to support the state’s specialty crops, like berries and apples. One of the recipients is the Michigan State Horticultural Society (MSHS), based in Benton Harbor. 

The organization aims to support Michigan fruit growers through education and research.


It received two specialty crop grants, the first of which will fund research on how to manage the grape berry moth – the primary insect pest for juice and wine grapes. 


MSHS Executive Secretary Ben Smith said the moth lives in the trees outside a vineyard, but lays its eggs on the grapevines, damaging the fruit.


“It’s a difficult one to control… you have to target them when they’re coming in to lay their eggs,” Smith said. “This project is going to help investigate why we’ve had some control failures in the past and ways to better control the grape berry moth.”


The second grant will fund research on how to expand the state’s peach and nectarine industry. Smith said the goal is to help farmers grow peaches and nectarines as efficiently as apples.  


“The apple has had a lot of development, a lot of money put into research over the years on how to manage the trees, how to manage the fruit,” he said. “This project is working on helping to move the peach and nectarine forward to where the apple industry has been for quite some time.”


Ultimately, Smith said the goal of both studies is to help fruit growers become more profitable.


“At the end of the day, farming is a business – individual growers have to be profitable on their farms to be able to stay in business,” he said. “These are targeted to help growers know how to manage their farms better or know how to plan for the future better.”


The grants amounts are $99,979 and $90,562 for moth management and peach and nectarine research, respectively. 


Smith said for a two-year project, those are “great dollar amounts” to hire the right researchers, afford other inputs and turn research around quickly.


“These block grants are a great opportunity to do bigger-scale things that answer bigger questions faster,” he said. “It gets great information out to the industry quickly.”


Ultimately, Smith said successful fruit farms contribute to a successful state economy. And while grapes and peaches are important to Michigan’s agricultural economy, they’re also key to its tourism economy – especially in southwest Michigan. 


“People love coming to wineries to do tastings here in southwest Michigan, and the same for farmers markets and peaches,” Smith said. “And by being able to grow them successfully here, we’re able to boost Michigan’s economy.”


Contact Gemma atgdicarlo@wvpe.orgor follow her on Twitter at@gemma_dicarlo.


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Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.