Fruit research station sparks excitement for ag industry.

August 6, 2021

Earl and Linda Peterson cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the Earl and Linda Peterson West Michigan Research Station. Also pictured, left to right: Andy Riley, Mike VanAgtmael, Doug Buhler, Gary McDowell, Gerrit Herrygers and Dave Rennhack.

Fruit research station sparks excitement for ag industry.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor. 

WEARE TOWNSHIP — Approximately 230 community members and agricultural professionals attended the grand opening of the 10,000-square-foot Earl and Linda Peterson West Michigan Research Station Thursday evening, Aug. 5.

Located on 68 acres of farmland, the donor-owned station recently completed the multi-million-dollar project. Research at the site will focus on peaches, tart cherries, pears and Montmorency cherries — with plans to expand to sweet cherries and apples as soon as 2022.

Michigan State University researchers, a station coordinator and a farm manager will work in the center.

Patricia Parsons

Created by the non-profit organization West Central Michigan Horticultural Research Inc., the project supports agriculture in Oceana, Mason and Newaygo counties. 

Earl Peterson

“I am a fourth generation farmer on my mother’s side and a third generation farmer on my father’s side,” said Earl Peterson, founder of Peterson Farms, Inc. The facility is named after Earl and his wife Linda. “I grew up on several farms in Mason County and learned the value of hard work from my father, Leroy ‘Don’ Peterson.”

Peterson and his wife began teaching in Hart in 1969 and started farming during their summers and off-hours from their regular jobs. He described how he and Linda worked early in the morning before the school day started and then went back in the fields after school until dark. 

In 1983, they decided to become processors. Their endeavor eventually flourished into the successful business it is today. Peterson Farms, Inc. is the largest employer in Oceana County.

The facility features an entrance dedicated to the businesses, individuals and other vested parties that made the project a reality. As you walk in the entrance, you will see names of local growers and educators as well as large corporate sponsors invested in the future of Michigan agriculture. The entrance was donated by Stovall Construction, a local business that built the station.

Andy Riley and Richard Raffaelli hug after Raffaelli is presented his award.

The station has partnered with MSU extension on multiple research platforms specific to the microclimate in the tri-county area.

Gerrit Herrygers

“This was at a time when we really needed to establish a stronger presence in this part of the state,” said Doug Buhler, director of MSU ag/bio/research and assistant vice president of research and innovation.

“Richard is the leader of the team and the catalyst for making everything happen,” said Board of Directors President Andy Riley of Richard Raffaelli, chief operating officer at Peterson Farms, Inc. Raffaelli and Administrator Patricia Parsons both received awards for their key roles in the center’s development.

“This research center should probably be named the Richard Raffaelli Research Center,” said Earl Peterson, describing Raffaelli’s unwavering commitment to the project.

The banquet room, which features a full kitchen, is surrounded with agriculture-related photos taken from the 1800s through the 1900s. It is available for the community to rent for various events, such as wedding receptions, said Peterson Farms Senior Procurement Manager Tracy Blamer.

The conference room is also available for groups to rent for meetings.

The facility is located at 5185 N. Oceana Drive

Andy Riley

Doug Buhler

The center’s board of directors includes: Andy Riley, president; Mike VanAgtmael, vice president; Gerrit Herrygers, secretary; David Rennhack, treasurer; Caleb Coulter, trustee; Richard Raffaelli, project manager; Doug Buhler, MSU faculty; Nichole Wilcox, Greenstone; Chris Alpers, Michigan Horticultural Society. For more information, visit www.westmichiganresearchcenter.org.

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Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Gary McDowell

Mark Riley, at left, and Gerrit Herrygers

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