CLARKSVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — A research team at Michigan State University is aiming to help hard apple cider makers pick the right fruit.

At a research station in Clarksville in Ionia County, researchers planted 88 apple tree varieties typically used for hard cider, Professor Steve van Nocker, Ph.D., said. The trees were planted five years ago, and researchers are studying things like how well they produce, the diseases the trees get and what the fruit is like.

“From that data, we hope to be able to recommend varieties that Michigan growers can put on their own farms for hard cider purposes,” van Nocker said.

He said part of the team’s goal is to make mistakes so that growers don’t have to. Many of the varieties historically used for cider were developed in Europe, so they may not do as well in Michigan’s climate.

He said at least half of the trees they planted turned out to be “real lemons,” with some flowering too early for Michigan, some not producing fruit and some only producing fruit every other year.

About a third of the trees dropped their fruit before they had a chance to ripen, van Nocker said, something that shocked the researchers.

Cider makers in Michigan don’t have a lot to work with, van Nocker said. He explained that hard apple cider needs lots of sugar, tannins and acid.

“What we hope to do is identify apples … especially high-tannin apples and high-acid apples that they can use it in blends with something that they’re already growing, like Honeycrisp,” he explained. “Maybe they’re not able to sell all the all of the Honeycrisp for fresh market. Well then, they can take the rest and make blends with cider apples.”

The other part of the project is developing apples that have “high levels of red pigment in the juice.”

The team has also put together a chart that shows how apple varieties measure up in terms of sweetness, acidity, pH and bitterness.

As the team works to find a few varieties of apples that would be profitable in Michigan, van Nocker said he hopes to keep the state in a leadership position in the industry.

“My goal is to help them create really superior product hard cider that will sell well, and will keep Michigan in a top position as a primary cider maker,” he said.

If funding allows, the team hopes to keep the project going for a total of eight years, van Nocker said.