SPARTA, MI — This season may very likely yield Michigan's largest fresh market apple crop ever.
Mother Nature is giving back after vicious freezes in the spring of 2012 devastated apple buds throughout Michigan. The 2012 crop was Michigan's smallest since 1944, according to several growers.
Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., based here, noted that Michigan's apple industry collectively capitalized on a season without an apple crop. "The majority of our pack plants have made changes to their packing lines or at least reconfigured with new sizers for better capacity. There is more infra-red technology and [as a result] there are more defect sorters that can do a more consistent job than a human eye and the human hand and so increases the ability to deliver quality."
Michigan's apple crop is "real good," according to Barry Winkel, general manager and a partner in the family firm Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., located in Benton Harbor. "It could be that we have more apples than ever before."
Chris Sandwick, vice president of sales and marketing for Belleharvest Sales Inc. in Belding, MI, smiled and gave a thumbs-up when asked about Belleharvest's 2013 apple crop. "It looks like the conditions are correct for a well-finished crop. We have good sizing and a clean finish. Every day we check off the calendar that is closer to a reality," he said.
The first apple packing for Belleharvest this year was to begin around Aug. 15, with Paula Reds on the line.
Sandwick said the Ginger Gold variety would begin packing Aug. 20, and added, "by the first week of September, we'll be well on our way."
On July 26, Armock told The Produce News that Michigan's 2013 apple crop has "normal timing and it is one of our bigger crops. It might at the end of season prove to be our largest crop. At the end of the season we will be fairly aggressive on promotions and we intend to move a normal portion of the crop early in the fall, with a good balance for the balance of the season."
Armock continued, "I am excited about the crop we are able to sell." He expects the 2013 storage deal will run into the 2014 new crop, which he said is good "as long as there is a good balance, varietal-wise. While this is one of our larger crops, it is very marketable because of our transition here over the last decade in planting and growing." He explained that Michigan growers have been planting attractive varieties that "consumers are buying in the stores today. There is much more of the balance to Galas and Fujis and Honeycrisps. We have found some varieties that work well for us and we are well into the development stage of opening markets." Michigan also "has regional varieties that various upper Midwest people grew up with and enjoy." These include McIntosh, Empire and Jonathan.
On July 16 Winkel said the "guesstimate" is that Michigan will produce 26 million bushels of apples, "but the growers' fieldmen say there will be more than that. That is fine by me. We are in the process of lining up more bulk boxes to hold them in storage. This is welcome after last year. Most places [storage units] were empty.
"The trees were rested this spring and have come back with a heavy bud set. We have had plenty of rain. It's been a wet year," Winkel said July 16. "The fruit will size up real well."
Roger Kropf, the owner of Core Farms LLC, based in Hartford, MI, noted that the massive set of the Michigan apple crop means that ongoing good growing conditions mean huge gains in production.
Kropf said that "a 'slightly larger' crop can swing a million bushels" with a good rainfall. He believes this Michigan apple crop will have "26 million bushels if the growth continues. It could go up one or two million." The increase will not be in number of apples, but in the size of apples on the tree.
Because there are so many young plantings, Kropf continued, where trees are immature, "I don't believe the crop will jump to 30 million. The older trees have a lot of apples. Twenty-eight million is possible. Thirty million is questionable."
Mitchell Brinks, sales manager of Jack Brown Produce Inc. in Sparta, said of his industry, "We're coming back with a vengeance this year." Brinks said the crop is projected to be close to 30 million bushels. He noted that if Michigan ever had a larger apple crop, it was more than a couple decades ago, when the state was much more oriented to the processing market.
Jack Brown's field and sales representative, Pat Chase, noted that Michigan growers no longer deliberately produce fruit for processing. "Fresh market varieties pay the bills." Sorting the fresh crop in the packing process "will still serve the processors."
Looking toward the national apple crop, Armock said, "Preliminary guesses are for a crop in the country of maybe 250 million bushels. We have sold far larger crops than that in years past. Most areas have good or great crops. From my perspective this is a very marketable crop. When there is a good crop you usually have good to great quality. That is the way this looks to me. This crop I am surrounded with looks to me like it has all the potential to be a vintage year."