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Blueberry growers to vote on creating research program

Associated Press • Dec 18, 2016 at 2:00 PM

LANSING — Blueberry growers in Michigan will decide whether to establish a research and education program to support their industry.

"The goal for this program is to keep Michigan's blueberry industry on the cutting edge of new technology as well as implementation of new research that keep Michigan's blueberry farmers economically viable in the world market into the future," according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's website. "This program shall emphasize advancements in blueberry research, information delivery, and Michigan industry-wide collaboration."

A referendum has been scheduled for Jan. 9-20. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will oversee it.

Public hearings on the matter were conducted in Holland and South Haven last month.

Michigan leads the nation in growing blueberries, producing over one-third of all of the blueberries eaten in the U.S., according to the MDA. In 2011, the state produced 72 million pounds and over 20 varieties of the sweet, round, cultivated berries. Michigan blueberries are grown, harvested and processed by over 600 family farms, contributing nearly $118.7 million to the state's economy. Allegan, Ottawa, Berrien, Muskegon and Van Buren counties comprise the state's primary blueberry growing region.

A committee of seven blueberry producers appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder would oversee the program. It would be funded by assessments on blueberries grown in the state.

The proposal calls for a maximum assessment of up to three-tenths of a cent per pound of blueberries sold.

To be adopted, the program must receive support from more than 50 percent of votes cast, representing more than 50 percent of the total bushels voted.

Michigan is second only to California in the nation when it comes to crop diversity - apples, blueberries, wine grapes, strawberries, they all attract tourists from around the state and around the Midwest. A 2011 survey of fruit farms showed 825 apple orchards, 600 blueberry farms , 850 cherry orchards, 455 vineyards, 360 peach orchards and 170 strawberry farms in the state.

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