(Nov. 4) Michigan is the leader in blueberry production in the U.S., and the newly formed Michigan Blueberry Advisory Group aims to keep it that way.

The group was conceived at an Oct. 19 meeting in Holland, Mich., that brought together almost 30 people — blueberry growers, industry officials and Michigan State University Extension Office employees — who all share the same goal, said Shelley Hartmann, owner of True Blue Farms, Grand Junction, Mich., and interim chairman of the group.

“What we’re trying to do is pull together all the Michigan blueberry growers and unify them so we can have one voice at the state and federal level,” she said. “We all grow blueberries in the state of Michigan, and we need to come together.”

The advisory group will allow the industry to confront issues regarding research and development, water quality and pesticide use, Hartmann said.

Michigan already lays claim to two other blueberry organizations — the Michigan Blueberry Growers Association, Grand Junction, and United Blueberry Producers of Michigan, Holland. The new group is different, though, in that it will be the “sole voice” for growers at the governmental level, Hartmann said.

“Lansing needs to know that we’re all together on this,” she said. “It can’t just be one group or the other. It has to be for the whole. When we go to Lansing and every commodity is represented there and nobody’s there for blueberries, it’s not good.”

An advisory group may be a tough draw in a state in which there are “two different blueberry worlds,” as one shipper put it.

“You have a group of people that represent the growers association, and they’re kind of close,” said George Fritz, sales manager at Michigan Summer Blueberries Inc., Bangor. “You also have a group of independents that are not tied together in any way. They’re very independent.”

Growers have tried to establish an advisory group twice before, but talks broke down when the discussions turned to money, Hartmann said.

“We’re not talking about money this time,” she said. “After we get everybody’s trust and get everybody together, then we can go forth.”