Dec 9, 2016
Vegetable council president to continue focus on research

Doug Horkey will be the next president of the Michigan Vegetable Council (MVC). He’ll start his two-year term in January, succeeding outgoing president Joe Pirrone.

Doug, 33, is a partner in Horkey Brothers, a vegetable farm based in Dundee, in the southeast corner of Michigan. The farm’s roots go back to the 1950s, when Doug’s grandparents moved to Dundee. His grandfather, George Sr., an attorney and former mayor of Madison Heights, Michigan, grew vegetables on the side. George Sr.’s two sons, George Jr. (Doug’s father) and Carl, decided they
wanted to farm for a living, so they expanded the family operation, Doug said.

Doug’s father married Sharon Roscoe in 1969. Sharon’s father, Murl Roscoe, also grew vegetables, and the families combined the two operations within the next few years, according to the Horkey Brothers website.

Today, Doug, his father, uncle and brother Travis run the family business. His father also runs a different branch of the business called Roscoe and Horkey Farms, a wholesale produce distributor based in Detroit.

Horkey Brothers encompasses about 1,700 acres of vegetables, spread over different farms in the Dundee area. The crops are sweet corn, potatoes, cabbage, peppers and hard squash. They’re sold through various channels, primarily in the Midwest: some processed, some retail, some to farm markets and some to restaurants, Doug said.

Greenhouse work starts about mid- February, and planting starts around April 1. Harvest starts in mid-June, with cabbage. “Hammer time” is mid-July through early September, when bell peppers, sweet corn and potatoes are harvested. Hard squash starts in September. Potato harvest ends about mid- October. Stored potatoes are bagged and sold through February. They pack and ship most of their own vegetables, he said.

As with other farms, finding adequate labor is the top challenge. Horkey Brothers has eight year-round employees, a few part- time employees, and hires about 30 migrant workers during harvest, Doug said.

Weather is a constant issue, of course, and can end up multiplying disease problems. Phytophthora, especially, has become a bigger problem in the past 15 years. The disease problem has been offset somewhat by more resistant varieties, he said.

Potato harvest at Horkey Brothers, a vegetable farm based in Dundee, Michigan. Partner Doug Horkey will be the next president of the Michigan Vegetable Council.
Potato harvest at Horkey Brothers, a vegetable farm based in Dundee, Michigan. Partner Doug Horkey will be the next president of the Michigan Vegetable Council.

The Horkeys recently expanded their Detroit business and built a new storage facility at their Dundee headquarters. The plan is to stay the course for the moment, with no major changes in the works, Doug said.

Industry priorities

Doug, currently the vice president, joined MVC about seven years ago. He thought it would be a good way to get more involved in the industry. As president, his top priority will be tackling farm worker shortages – even though the problem is bigger than Michigan, and there’s only so much a group like MVC can do.

“We’ll continue doing whatever we can to help out,” he said.

Another priority is pest and disease research. MVC will continue to fund research projects and advise researchers on what needs to be studied. Education – connecting researchers with growers – also is important, which is why MVC helps organize the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market EXPO every December, along with other meetings, Doug said.

— Matt Milkovich, managing editor


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