Dec 15, 2022
Distinguished: Michigan apple grower, Extension specialist lauded

The Michigan State Horticultural Society has chosen a fifth-generation apple grower and a Michigan State University (MSU) senior Extension tree fruit specialist for its annual award recipients.

Steve Thome, who operates Thome Orchards near Comstock Park; and Bill Shane, who has been at MSU since 1992, both received the council’s Distinguished Service Award at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market EXPO Dec. 7 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Steve Thome

Steve Thome Photos: Kristen Kazarian

Thome, who took over day-to-day management of the family business from his father Harold in 1997, traces his roots at the orchard in Alpine Township to 1846. Over the years, the farm has produced fruits, vegetables, row crops, dairy and beef cattle. It now focuses on apple production, according to the society.

After high school, he attended Ferris State College to study heavy equipment service, and worked as a truck mechanic for two years before returning to the family farm.

Thome married Missy, his high school sweetheart, in 1987. They have two children: Megan is a dental hygienist and Mitch works on the family farm.

Thome has been president of the Michigan State Horticultural Society, chairman of the Michigan Apple Research Committee and is currently on the boards of the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission and Jack Brown Produce. He is chairman of the Alpine Township Planning Commission.

Bill Shane

Bill Shane

Shane’s late father, George Shane, was co-owner of a farm supply business, who helped Shane get a summer job with the then-new MSU Tree Fruit IPM project. He later received an undergraduate degree in Botany and Plant Pathology there. Focusing on tree fruit diseases, Bill Shane earned a masters degree in plant pathology at North Carolina State University.

Shane and his wife, Gretchen Anderson (now deceased), attended the University of Minnesota for graduate studies. He earned a doctorate in plant pathology in 1985, focusing on the epidemiology of plant diseases. The couple worked at Ohio State University before moving to Michigan in 1992, where Shane began his career at MSU.

They have two children: Janelle and Steven, who are both electrical engineers. Janelle specializes in nanoscale optics at Boulder Nonlinear Systems, and Steven is a senior nuclear engineer at Cook Nuclear Plant near Bridgman, Michigan.

Bill Shane has been the MSU direct Extension fruit production and marketing agent, based at the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center (SWMREC) in Benton Harbor. He now has research and Extension duties and became the interim SWMREC coordinator in 2016; he was fully appointed at the facility in 2018, according to the society.

He directs the MSU peach variety improvement program and has guided the peach-breeding program since 1994.

Throughout his career, Bill Shane’s research and Extension work has focused on discovering causes and solutions for disorders that affect crops. He has developed predictive models for disease and fruit maturity, including a disease model for Cercospora leafspot used for more than 30 years by commercial sugarbeet growers, and a peach maturity model.

He has identified new insect pests and plant diseases, including the first state reports of black stem borer and Asian garden beetle in Michigan tree fruit plantings. As an Extension specialist, he has worked with commercial tree fruit growers on all aspects of commercial production. He has mentored numerous summer interns.

He received the International Tree Fruit Association’s Extension Award in 2020.

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