Feb 4, 2024Michigan fruit industry honors Bill Erwin, Greg Lang
Two Michigan fruit industry notables who’ve spent the better part of their lives in orchards, Bill Erwin and Greg Lang, have been honored by the Michigan State Horticultural Society (MSHS) with its Distinguished Service Award.
Erwin and his wife, Linda, were at Erwin Orchards, South Lyon, Michigan, for more than five decades together, building an agritourism destination and farm market. They recently retired.
Lang, a professor in Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Horticulture since 2000, focuses on tree fruit research and Extension, mostly on sweet and tart cherries, but also apple rootstocks, Honeycrisp bitter pit and stone fruit production systems.
The awards were presented at the annual Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market EXPO (GLEXPO) banquet on Dec. 6.
Erwin, the fourth generation at the family apple farm, said he started working there when he was 11 years old. The farm was primarily a wholesale operation, selling at the Eastern Market in Detroit. In the late 1970s, that shifted to direct marketing with U-pick apples, pumpkins, sweet cherries, raspberries, asparagus and saskatoon berries.
The Erwins opened a farm market in 1997 and added agritainment features, including a hay maze, corn maze and a play area.
Bill Erwin was on the MSHS executive board from 1992-98 and was president in 1998. The Erwins retired in 2022 and sold the property; some of the apple acreage continues to be managed by Blake Farms.
Jim Goldstein, of Hy’s Cider Mill in Bruce Township, Michigan, has known Erwin since he was about seven years old; both their families sold product at the Detroit market.
“Whenever there was really some kind of issue with pesticides, pests, fungicides, Bill was kind of a leader in that area, which is the most helpful thing of all in this industry,” Goldstein said in a video produced by Michigan Farm Bureau that played before the award presentation. “If you can’t grow them, you can’t sell them.”
Bob Tritten, longtime southeast Michigan Extension agent, said in the video that Erwin has two attributes that are vital to the fruit industry.
“One, was that he was a leader, and he would take on responsibilities and serve on boards and always was willing to step forward and move the industry forward and keep it moving along,” Tritten said in the video. “The second attribute was Bill’s willingness to help Michigan State University [MSU] do our work in terms of research and Extension.”
Tritten said Erwin was always willing to host a meeting or allow MSU faculty and students to use his orchards to conduct research, including pheromone disruption and mite control to fight pests.
Erwin is a founding member of the Michigan Cider Makers Guild. In his retirement, he plans to enjoy skeet shooting, traveling with his wife and daughter and to provide industry consulting. The Erwins also plan to visit farms across the country.
Lang started his career at Louisiana State University in 1986 as its lone fruit crops faculty. There, he met his future wife, Suzanne, who was hired in the horticulture department as well. Lang became an associate professor in tree fruits at Washington State University in 1993, and his wife became an adjunct professor in ornamental horticulture physiology.
They moved to Michigan in 1999 to teach at MSU. Over the past 20 years, Greg Lang has pioneered orchard innovations, making consistent production of highvalue fresh market sweet cherries feasible, including fruiting wall training systems that facilitate greater labor efficiency and mechanization/precision management like canopy mapping, smart sprayers and robotics.
He is frequently invited to speak on his work around the world, providing opportunities to bring additional new ideas back to Michigan growers. In fact, Lang was in Australia at a fruit conference and unable to accept the award in person.
He has served as an organizational leader of the Great Lakes Fruit Workers since 2007, as the educational coordinator for the GLEXPO’s fruit education programs since 2019, and as the education director of the International Fruit Tree Association since 2020. He credits working with his MSU Fruit Extension and Research colleagues and Michigan’s fruit industry leaders as the driving forces for his career.
Amy Irish-Brown, sustainable solutions sales specialist at Valent, said she saw his influence in the industry during a trip to fruit production areas in the Pacific Northwest.
“Everywhere we went, everyone kind of glommed onto Greg,” she said in the video. “They’re happy to see him, they want to ask him questions while he’s in place, and that’s true here as well in Michigan. He brings that world, that national knowledge here to the growers in Michigan to help them to be able to do new plantings and new varieties and these new dwarfing rootstocks.”
Lang has been involved in the International Society for Horticultural Science and was chair of the cherry working group for many years.
“Not only are we able to tap into what he knows, what he’s learned that works and doesn’t work, but he’s also gotten lots and lots of contacts all around the world and we get an opportunity to approach them, and they’re usually willing to share whatever they know just because of the relationship Greg has with them,” Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce Marketing, Sparta, Michigan, said in the video.
— FGN staff