In 2018, a small group of fruit and vegetable growers discussed a proposal by Andy Riley, a grower at Riley Orchards in Mears. Riley Orchards is a fifth-generation-family farm that grows asparagus, tart cherries, sweet cherries, peaches and apples, and Riley thought the agricultural community of the region -Oceana, Mason and Newaygo counties- could benefit from its own farm-related research center.
Riley thought such a research facility would help the region’s many tree fruit growers, who farm in unique soils and face different weather conditions than other parts of the state. The soils are much sandier and the microclimate can make for harsher weather conditions due to the proximity and position of Lake Michigan.
A $1.5 million fund-raising campaign began and succeeded with countless donations from individuals and various organizations and in August 2021, the West Michigan Research Station opened in Hart.
Now, there are more than 22 agriculture research projects in progress at the center, overseen by experts from Michigan State University, a partner in the research facility. The research station will be used to study the growing of fruits and vegetables but also agriculture practices that impact farmers and the environment in a positive manner. Variety and rootstock trials are one of the objectives of research.