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BelleHarvest Sales looks forward to larger apple crop

by Tad Thompson | January 03, 2011
Generally, the demand for Michigan apples has been strong this year and prices have been good. But a volume amounting to half that of the 2009 crop has been insufficient for the industry, according to Tom Pletcher, vice president sales and marketing for BelleHarvest Sales Inc.

"It is never good when a crop is short," Mr. Pletcher told The Produce News. “The growers didn't do particularly well. We would like to have much more fruit. The state had 30 million bushels last year and 15 million this year. Twenty is about the norm. We would prefer to have a 20 [million] to 25 million-bushel crop. It wreaks havoc on marketing when tonnage is cut in half. It is not a good situation.”

Mr. Pletcher said that his industry enjoyed “exceptionally brisk demand at the front end of the season, through October. It slowed a bit after 'Apple Month’ [in October], but it’s picking up now that folks realize how short our crop really is. It is 50 percent or less than last year.”

With the crop so short, “I think most people plan to sell out. There is no way we will ship as long as we did last year, which was a record crop.”

The 2009 Michigan apple crop was shipped until August 2010. “Normally we sell to June or July. This year it will be more like May. There are not a lot of folks with product in Michigan this year. A lot of folks project not shipping anywhere past May 15. We will be winding down in April.”

Mr. Pletcher said that prices for Michigan apples “have been stable. The demand was very good at the front end and through October, then it slowed considerably in November and recently it is perking back up. In our case, in the last two or three weeks it has been picking up. For four or five weeks demand was very soft. Part of that is influence from the west. They had a lesser grade they wanted to move through the system. We were not in a position to be particularly aggressive because we do not have a lot of fruit.”

He added: “I hope we get back to normal next year. We are expecting a much, much better crop next year; more in line with the norm. Having a lot of fruit is good and we had a very good season from last year’s crop. I certainly don’t want to go from 15 [million] back to over 30 [million] because it causes a lot of issues. I hope for a normal range of a 20 [million] to 25 million-bushel crop. If other areas are short, bring on 30 [million]!”

For the remainder of this shipping season, BelleHarvest will be “trying to take care of those we’ve worked with in the past and extend as long as we can.” Mr. Pletcher will be working “to actively generate interest at the tail end of this crop for the next, when we will have considerably more fruit.”

BelleHarvest, which is based in Belding, MI, was considering the installation of a new apple grader to use with the 2011 crop. Now, Mr. Pletcher said, those plans may be on hold for another year. “We may scale it back this year and scale back up for next season.”