Dec 11, 2018Kropf to lead Michigan State Horticultural Society
The Michigan State Horticultural Society’s (MSHS) next president is an advocate for research and early adoption of new growing practices.
Fourth-generation apple grower Chris Kropf will serve a one-year term as president of the MSHS starting in December. He comes from a long line of apple growers: his grandfather, Christian, came from Switzerland to settle near Lowell, Michigan, and his grandfather and father continued the family farm in that area. For a while early in his career, Chris also worked on the family farm, but at age 30, he lost his father, Ken Kropf. The family has a long-standing tradition of placing an apple on Ken’s grave each year from the beginning of harvest until the end of the season.
“It’s just our way of honoring his dad,” said his wife, Kim.
Chris and Kim bought their own orchards in 2003. The operation, Hart Farm, consists of 145 acres near Greenville, Michigan. About 120 acres of the farm are currently in production. Only growing apples, they produce Ginger Gold, Gala, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Fuji and Evercrisp varieties. Hart Farm, too, is a family act: Kim scouts the orchards for issues as they arise. Their son, Kenneth Carl, is the farm’s designated drone pilot. Daughter Emily Kropf is the 2018 Michigan Apple Queen, and a freshman at Michigan State University (MSU), where she plans to major in agriculture business management with a Spanish minor.
Although Chris has a strong history and family connections to apple growing, he’s also been an early adopter of new growing techniques and technologies that help growers.
MSHS works to “foster an awareness of Michigan’s horticultural possibilities, encourage increased appreciation for the state’s choice fruit products and provide educational leadership on practical cultural, managerial and marketing methods.” The group funds research and agriculture students’ scholarships with funds largely raised by the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO, which runs Dec. 4-6 this year in Grand Rapids. In addition to his role with MSHS, Kropf has served for several years on the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, a body created in 2014 that raises grower funds for marketing and research activities – dollars that have so far been matched by the state of Michigan.
“Both organizations are very important and they both serve a purpose,” Kropf said. “Anything we can do to help better our industry, the better off we’re going to be as growers in the state, because we’re competing in a world market.”
In his roles on both organizations, Kropf brings a passion for the industry.
“It’s figuring out how can we bring more to the table to help growers do a better job,” Kropf said. “It’s about how can I help my fellow friends and growers be the best they can be.”
In thinking about what kinds of research offer benefits to growers, Kropf divides projects into those that are of immediate importance to the growers, such as spotted wing drosophila in cherry orchards, and research with long-term importance such as new rootstocks, varieties, tree training and orchard design.
Throughout his career, Kropf has been an early adopter of new technology. He studied for two years at MSU and then he earned an associate degree from Wenatchee Valley College. During his spare time there, he worked for industry pioneer Grady Auvil, who is known for establishing the Washington Tree Fruit Commission and cultivating the first Granny Smith apple in the United States.
“Out there I definitely gained a lot of good knowledge, as far as horticulture, and became good friends with a lot of industry leaders,” Kropf said.
The Kropf farm was among the first in Michigan to start planting high-density orchards and use fertigation in the mid-1990s. In Michigan, Chris Kropf also was an early adopter of a box wagon picking system, bringing in that practice from New York state.
The farm today still has a few practices different than other growers in Michigan – they use steel conduit rather than bamboo to train young trees, and new orchard plantings have the 10-by-2-foot spacings, which he said are more efficient to harvest and provide earlier yields and better fruit quality. There is also a mighty hail cannon, meant to sonically disrupt the formation of hailstones in approaching storms.
Chris and Kim travel internationally and keep an eye out for new practices that could be imported to Michigan.
“If we see an idea we think we can bring home and it’ll work for us, we’ll do that,” Chris said. “We always try to be on the leading edge for things that provide a good return on investment.”
Hart Farm is also a teaching farm, each year sponsoring a tour with MSU.
“What we do like to do, is share what we learn. It could be a positive or a negative,” he said. “It could be something that maybe lost us money or maybe something that made us money. We like to help the industry any way we can, and sometimes it’s through our mistakes.”
Top photo: Chris Kropf, incoming president of the Michigan State Horticultural Society, with his wife, Kim. Photos: Stephen Kloosterman