Feb 2, 2021
Krohne Plant Farms nursery operation sold

Friends within a niche of the specialty crops industry signed papers in December to transfer the strawberry and asparagus nursery sales operation of Michigan’s Krohne Plant Farms Inc. to the Indiana Berry & Plant Co.

Then, the group went out to celebrate by digging up some strawberry roots – specifically, the Archer variety of strawberry, which Bill Krohne once helped to introduce to growers.

“We’re thankful to have such good friends,” Krohne said. He said only about 12-13 nurseries in the U.S. grow dormant, bare-root strawberry plants for sale (some Canadian growers supply “green tip” plants – a different product).

“We’re all friends, and we all know each other and we all work together,” he said. “We respect each other.”

While he plans to semi-retire, Krohne Plant Farms will continue to farm for fresh sales. The sale didn’t include any assets of the company beyond a client list, he said. All sales for the current season are being transferred to Indiana Berry & Plant Co.

A full plate

For Bill Krohne, the decision to semi-retire comes at a time when good help is hard to find and his own hobbies are blossoming.

Krohne collects antiques as a hobby, focusing on old wood stoves, gas pumps and signs. The farm office is set up to look like an old-time hardware store. His wife Sheila, a nurse, is also retired.

He’s run the nursery operation since the mid-70s, for 44 years.

“My kids were in the office here doing an excellent job and all, but I’ve got a couple of younger granddaughters and my daughter decided to homeschool them this year,” he said. “And my son and his wife are expecting their first child in December – well, any time now. And it just hasn’t been as much fun as it used to be. I like a challenge, but it’s a real challenge to do all this. I’m getting older and having some health issues.

“We’ve lost some of our help that has been with us for a very long time, and it’s very difficult to get help,” he continued. “The H-2A (work visa) system doesn’t really work for our line of business.”

It’s a stop to the nursery business, but not of his career of growing.

“We still pick fresh strawberries, asparagus. We’ve got grapes with Welch’s,” Krohne said. “We lease our open ground to a brother-in-law, who is growing corn and beans on it.” The farm operation includes about 15 acres of strawberries for picking, 20 acres of asparagus and 60 acres of grapes that they currently lease out to another grower. The acreage features mostly sandy loam soils, which he said were “good for plants that don’t like their feet wet” and for easily digging up the plants.

Near the town of Hartford, “We’re about 12 miles from Lake Michigan,” he said. “We’re just in the heart of the fruit belt that runs up alongside Lake Michigan. That makes us a little milder in the winter, that usually gives us a lot of snow and it makes us a little milder in the summer.”

A highlight of Krohne’s career has been introducing Cornell University’s Archer strawberry variety to growers as a licensed supplier. A dedicated member of the North American Strawberry Growers Association (NASGA), the farm once hosted a stop on a NASGA tour and he served for four years on the NASGA board of directors, 2014-2018. He remains active in the organization.

A constant quality

Indiana Berry & Plant Co., located in Plymouth, looks forward to providing customers the same level of quality and service to which they’ve become accustomed.

“They have developed a group of very loyal customers by doing a great job with quality products,” said Sam Erwin, owner of the Indiana Berry & Plant Co. “Indiana Berry team is looking forward to working with the Krohnes’ and their customers to make a seamless transition and continue to provide top quality products combined with great service.”

Erwin started in the berry business in 1969 while still in high school, with a patch of pick-your-own strawberries. Indiana Berry was formed in 1982. Adolfo Vasquez has been Indiana Berry’s farm manager for 35 years.

“He’s always one step ahead of me,” Erwin said of Vasquez.

Indiana Berry & Plant sells to commercial growers, smaller “market gardeners,” and even some serious home growers, Erwin said. He’s even starting to get into selling potted strawberry plants to landscapers.

Erwin calls Krohne “a fascinating guy” with his antique collecting and agrees there is mutual respect and friendship among the nursery growers.

“There are not many people that do strawberry plants,” he said.

— Stephen Kloosterman, associate editor

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