(Sept. 12) Shafer Lake Fruit Inc., Hartford, Mich., plans to pack up to 25% more apples this season after its purchase by two growers and the packing company’s president.

On May 1, three parties — Berrybrook Enterprises, Dowagaic, Mich.; High Acres Fruit Farm, Hartford; and Dale Drake, Shafer Lake’s president and general manager, closed on a sale to purchase Shafer Lake after former owners Bruce and Stanley Dowd retired. Bill Austin, also a previous owner, sold his share in the company.

Drake, who has been with Shafer Lake since 1968, purchased 10% of the company.

Jason, Trever and Ryan Meachum, owners of High Acres Fruit Farm, already pack apples at Shafer Lake. They now own 50% of the company.

Scott, Joseph and John Hassle (under the name Berrybrook Enterprises), growers who closed their packing facility, switched their apple tonnage to Shafer. They now own 40%.

Shafer Lake packs 95% apples and 5% peaches and pears, and with the Hassles’ additional tonnage, Drake said he is expecting Shafer’s apple volume to increase by about 25%. Drake declined to provide the number of cartons the company packs.

“It’s hard to get an old workhorse like me excited, and I’m very excited about this,” Drake said. “The Meachums are very high-quality growers and were Shafer Lake Fruit’s largest growers. We’re very happy to have them on board. The Hassles used to pack and quit packing, so they needed a home for their fruit.”

Drake is not alone in his enthusiasm.

Jason Meachum said he and his brothers — who operate High Acres and Centennial Farms, Hartford, where they grow strawberries, tart cherries, peaches, plums, nectarines, juice grapes, soybeans, bell peppers, specialty peppers and tomato grapes on a combined 2,500 acres — have expressed interest in buying into Shafer Lake Fruit for about five years.

When they heard the company was going on the market about a year ago, they were concerned the Dowds and Austin would sell to a company that did not pack fruit, leaving the Meachums — who account for about 70% of Shafer’s business — with no facility to pack their apples.

Last fall, the Dowds and Austin got serious about making a transition, and they gave the Meachums the first opportunity to purchase, Jason Meachum said.

“Now we have a guaranteed home for our product,” Jason Meachum said.

“Along with that came Riveridge (Produce Marketing, Inc., Sparta, Mich.), the No. 1 apple broker in the state of Michigan. It’s kind of like a perfect marriage,” he said. Riveridge sells the fruit packed by Shafer Lake.

But this “perfect marriage” needed one more partner. So, last spring, Meachum presented the idea to Scott Hassle — part-owner of Berrybrook Enterprises, the largest apple grower in southwest Michigan — and he was sold, Jason Meachum said.

“We wanted to bring in Scott’s operation because of sheer volume,” said Jason Meachum, secretary of Shafer Lake. “He’s a young guy, and we can grow together.”

Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., Sparta, said Shafer Lake’s acquisition of Berrybrook’s tonnage also is advantageous for his company because it gives Riveridge more varietals to work with.

Scott Hassle, whose farm grows vegetables and tree fruits, said he decided to buy into the company because it was becoming nearly impossible to run both his packinghouse and farm. He also was confronted with the need to upgrade his facility to meet the food and safety department’s new regulations. By investing in Shafer Lake, he and his brothers acquired a fully functioning company, with all its components — code compliance, accounting, management, packinghouse crews, etc. — already in place.