Tag Archives: phil schwallier

An apple a day, brought to you by strategic connections

With fall in full swing, hopefully you’ve had a chance to pick up some Michigan apples from your local farmers market, orchard or grocery store. Did you know that Michigan is our country’s third largest producer of apples with more than 11.3 million apple trees on over 35,000 acres (according to the Michigan Apple Committee)? That’s 825 family-run farms that produce our juicy and delicious Pure Michigan apples. Who can bring the apple industry groups and families to the table with the university to problem-solve specific needs? Michigan State University (MSU) Extension agriculture and agribusiness educators Amy Irish-Brown and Phil Schwallier.

Through their strategic connections, Amy and Phil facilitated the creation of the lab on the Ridge near Sparta to measure apple maturity indices. The Ridge is Michigan’s major apple-producing region that is located in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties. This region has the topography, soil, elevation and microclimate that are perfect for growing apples. The idea for a lab grew from a conversation Amy and Phil had on the way to a meeting about the need to closely monitor Honeycrisp and Fuji apples that had been experiencing some serious quality issues. When they pitched the idea to the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, they received an outstanding response from the entire apple industry.

The Michigan Tree Fruit Commission responded with $50,000 in funding for the project, the Michigan Apple Committee with $15,000, and the Michigan State Horticulture Society with $20,000. Storage Control Systems responded by donating space for the lab at a value of $5,000. AgroFresh donated an automatic firmness tester (valued at $5,000) and Riveridge Produce Marketing donated the use of a quality database ($2,000). Dr. Randy Beaudry, from the MSU Department of Horticulture, donated use of a gas chromatograph ($3,000) and served as MSU specialist for this effort. When local apple growers donated fruit for testing, the lab was ready for action.

Why was there such an overwhelming response? Because Amy and Phil had formed strategic connections and relationships with the people involved in the apple industry from growers, to businesses, to campus connections.

“It’s really been a lifetime of connections that have developed and continue to develop.” Amy said. “We work with a great group of producers – they are supportive and fun. We treat everyone with respect and listen to their issues. The one-on-one connections lead to an insight into the bigger issues facing the apple industry as a whole, which best helps us help growers. Growers often just want to be growers, so sometimes, we have to make connections with media, state and federal agencies and services, commodity groups, and others to represent the interests of the apple industry for them.”

The lab has been up and running since 2015, and it provides critical real-time information to Michigan apple producers from pre-harvest through the harvest season and in post-harvest storage. Amy and Phil are able to integrate, summarize and deliver information to Michigan apple growers in concise weekly reports on apple pruning indices, nutritional impact, maturity indices for appropriate harvest, and storage indices. These reports help growers make the best real-time decisions and grow high-quality apples at a profit. Using this technology, they identify what is working well for the current year apple crop and where growers can make decisions to improve this year’s harvest outcomes.

“We have the fruit industry’s issues at heart; it is our passion.” Phil said. “To be valued, successful and admired requires knowing the people, performing tasks that address their most pressing issues, and the persistence to complete the work the growers and industry define as important. This means that ‘people skills’ is the most important characteristic an Extension person needs to have; but fruit knowledge, hard work, self-motivation and job dedication are also important. We work for the fruit industry and thus the fruit industry works for us, MSU and Michigan.”

Check out this great video created by the Michigan Apple Committee that describes growers’ relationship with MSU Extension.

Amy and Phil are a great example of strategic connections and building relationships. Have you thought about connecting with committees in your area or faculty specialists on campus? What needs to do you see in your communities that could be met by a collaboration with local businesses, companies and governmental groups?

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Filed under Agriculture, Agriculture and Agribusiness, Horticulture, Partnerships, strategic connections

Extension educator talks on NPR about toll on apple industry

On Sept. 17, NPR aired a story on “All Things Considered” featuring the hit Michigan’s apple industry took this year. A mild winter followed by an April freeze reduced the harvest by 90 percent.

Amy Irish-Brown, senior Extension educator, contributed to the program, discussing the toll on apple orchards in the west Michigan region known as the Ridge. The 158 square miles of gently rolling slopes produces 65 percent of our state’s apple crop. This year’s harvest is only 10 to 15 percent of the usual crop. Amy helped the producers connect with producers and processors to help make the story compelling. And Phil Schwallier, Extension educator in AABI, and his wife, Judy, were interviewed from their perspective as the owners of a u-pick apple orchard.

Listen to the program, and read the NPR article here.

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Filed under Agriculture

Extension staff members calm growers’ weather-related fears through expertise and technology

Although we’re all enjoying the warm spring weather, the unseasonable conditions have raised concerns with growers. Eileen Gianiodis, Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications news manager, has received several calls from the media with questions about how this spring’s wacky weather may affect various crops. True to form, Michigan State University Extension educators and specialists have risen to the challenge. They’ve written numerous stories for MSU Extension News dealing with the weather craziness, and reporters have picked up those and called educators directly.

 Though we have not been able to track exactly how much publicity the issue has generated (at least a dozen media hits, but that’s way underestimated), I have been impressed with how ready, willing and able educators are to talk to reporters to help their readers, listeners and viewers understand the implications of an early spring followed by a frost. 

 This MLive Kalamazoo News article links to an MSU Extension News report by Jeff Andresen, associate professor, and Aaron Pollyea, research technologist, both in the Department of Geography. The report discusses the abnormally warm weather and the chances of a hard frost. The Kalamazoo News article also gives specific fruit information from Extension educator Mark Longstroth. Many of our staff members including Mark, Amy Irish Brown, Diane Brown, Duke Elsner, Erin Lizotte, Nikki Rothwell, Carlos Garcia-Salazar, Phil Schwallier, Bill Shane and Bob Tritten have written MSU Extension News regional reports on Michigan fruit.

 Reporters have interviewed staff members about the weather issue. View the following WZZM video in which Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension horticulture educator, gives expert advice on how to cover plants to protect the early buds from overnight frost:

http://www.wzzm13.com/video/default.aspx?bctid=1531266435001&odyssey=mod|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|featured

 MSU Extension News has proven to be a winner in expanding the reach of our expertise, and our educators and specialists are willing and more than capable of meeting the challenge of sharing their knowledge about an important issue, whether it’s through written articles, bulletins, interviews, workshops or one-on-one meetings with the public. Thanks to all who have helped to make us a valuable resource to farmers, gardeners and consumers in these uncertain times!

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Fruit growers name Beaudry ‘Fruit Man of the Year’

Yesterday, I had my second opportunity to see Dr. Randy Beaudry, Michigan State University professor of horticulture, honored by the industry he serves in his research and Extension program. I described his recognition with the 2010 Distinguished Service Award from the Michigan State Horticultural Society in a previous posting. And yesterday, the Michigan Apple Pomesters recognized him with the “Fruit Man of the Year” award, one that has been awarded to educators Phil Schwallier and Amy Irish-Brown as well. The presentation recognized the impact of Dr. Beaudry’s research on postharvest physiology that I described in the previous blog entry.

 What was different yesterday was that the presentation was made by current and former students who worked in Dr. Beaudry’s lab. To hear praise from students like I heard yesterday is remarkable. They genuinely know that Dr. Beaudry was much more concerned with their education and development than with the work that he needed to have them complete in his laboratory.

 Adam Dietrich summed it up by saying that he was “…very accommodating, friendly, and one of the best resources we had due to his wealth of knowledge on scientific but also life subjects. He was never unwilling to help when college homework became a struggle, always made sure there was some order in his lab, but made sure it was a friendly atmosphere and was moving forward. He had high expectations of everyone and we were sure to meet them because of the respect we had for him but also because he had always treated us with respect.”

Congratulations to Dr. Beaudry, and thanks for his contributions to the Michigan apple industry AND MSU’s students.

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Filed under Awards