Jan 22, 2020
Michigan fruit processor plans major expansion with support from state, partners

The Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development on Jan, 22 approved a $135,000 performance-based Food and Agriculture Investment Fund grant to Peterson Farms, located in Shelby, Michigan.

Already Oceana County’s largest employer, Peterson Farms is beginning an expansion project that requires a multi-year capital investment of $22 million but is expected to yield an additional 50-70 new jobs for the rural community.

According to a news release, rhe project is also being supported by $3 million in net proceeds from Federal New Market Tax Credits from Michigan Community Capital and the Michigan Strategic Fund and a $1 million Community Development Block Grant through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Michigan Strategic Fund. The project was also made possible through the efforts and collaboration of The Right Place and the Oceana County Economic Alliance.

“There is no other state in the nation that can bring together so many state and local partners to create jobs in rural communities as well as Michigan can,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “Our food and agriculture industry is one of the strongest, most diverse, and most innovative you’ll find anywhere. And because of our commitment to the industry, we’re attracting investment from across the country and around the globe.” 

Peterson Farms is a leader in the U.S. frozen fruits market, specializing in individual quick-frozen fruits, fresh cut apples, apple sauce, fruit purees, juices, and cold storage operations. Peterson Farms currently markets more than 150 million finished pounds of frozen fruits and seven million gallons of apple juice/cider and juice concentrates each year, procured primarily from Michigan growers.

The expansion project will include three production lines and a new juice bottling capability. A frozen blueberry line currently residing in Georgia will be relocated to increase processing capabilities of Michigan-grown blueberries by 50 million pounds annually. A second applesauce line will be relocated from Washington, which will increase sauce volume from 25 million gallons to over 38 million gallons. New ABL apple peelers will be installed to increase yield on the existing line by 15 percent and is expected to result in an additional 1 million pounds of finished fresh sliced apples annually. In addition, a new juice bottling line will be acquired from New York and will be relocated to Shelby, which will increase the purchase of Michigan tart cherries by 15 million pounds. Growth beyond these initial volumes is anticipated, thereby creating the need for a more robust juice bottling operation that supports expanded commodities such as apple juice. 

“Peterson Farms is grateful for our partnership with the MEDC, MDARD, MCC, and Oceana County,” said Aaron Peterson, chief executive officer. “As we continue to pursue our mission of processing high quality Michigan grown apples, blueberries, tart and sweet cherries and peaches to our customers’ varied specifications, we also are eager to help those communities in which we operate as well as those supporting Peterson Farms’ grower partners. The expanded processing operations, developed with the assistance of the MEDC, MDARD and MCC, enables Peterson Farms to expand the employment opportunities for an additional 50-70 Oceana county associates while also creating the opportunity to process over 115 million pounds of additional fruit products grown by our grower partners.” 

MDARD previously supported Peterson Farms with a Food and Agriculture Investment Fund grant of $150,000 in 2018, for an $11 million state of the art IQF (Individual Quick Frozen) tunnel to ensure processing capabilities for growers outside of fresh markets. The retraction of three IQF tunnels statewide made this project imperative and it has been a huge success.

“There is a tremendous amount of strategic growth happening in Michigan’s food and ag industry,” said MDARD Director Gary McDowell, “and it’s especially gratifying to see all these groups come together and create new job opportunities for rural communities, while giving a boost to growers across the entire state.”

“In the long term, this funding will reduce the overall cost of the expansion in a meaningful way, making Michigan the most competitive option” said Eric Hanna, president and CEO of Michigan Community Capital. “On behalf of our partners—which include PNC New Markets, SB Friedman & Associates, the CDFI Fund (within the US Dep. of Treasury) and those already mentioned—we are thrilled be part of what we hope is an important continuing step toward the growth of Michigan’s agricultural economy. Scale matters in this industry grouping, and we hope these investments will make future expansions much more likely.”

MCC is a federally certified Community Development Financial Institution or ‘CDFI’ and a supporting organization to the MEDC and MSHDA. It helps Michigan compete for and win important federal funding opportunities.

“This expansion of Peterson Farm’s processing capabilities in Oceana County will have a positive impact on Michigan’s fruit growers market and agricultural supply chain,” Jeff Mason, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “We are pleased to work with MDARD and our local partners to continue to bring economic opportunities to all regions in the state and support Peterson Farms and the new jobs this expansion will bring to area residents.”

“Peterson Farms is a critical part of the Oceana County community,” said Jodi Nichols, Business Development Coordinator – Lake and Oceana Counties for The Right Place. “The variety of career paths and extensive employee benefits programs made available to residents by Peterson Farms are essential to our local economy, and this expansion is an exciting win for the region.”

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