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Michigan's apple industry the Comeback Kid in 2013

Michigan's apple industry has earned kudos as the Comeback Kid during the 2013 production season. In 2012, Mother Nature slapped Michigan's apple growers with a rollercoaster cycle of warm weather and killer freezes that virtually shut down production. The industry is moving into the 2013 season with a renewed sense of optimism that the coming crop will meet or exceed expectations.

Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, had boots on the ground on May 13 as she visited some orchards to see the king bloom firsthand. MI-AppleForecastOn May 13, Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee visited area orchards to see the king bloom. The state's growers are optimistic that the 2013 season will meet or exceed their expectations. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Apple Committee)And she spoke with The Produce News the same day to provide her assessment. "We are starting a new campaign that will play out in the trade and with our retailers," she stated. "Everyone loves a comeback story, and we have a great one in store for everyone."

Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc. in Sparta, MI, was also out in the field when he spoke with The Produce News on May 14. "At this point, we have a potential for a full crop," he said. "The whole community is really excited to have this." With the growing regions in full bloom or coming into bloom, Mr. Armock said growers are cautiously optimistic that volume for the 2013 crop will be larger than normal. Although growers were out of the game in 2012, he went on to say, "We have the tools to handle the crop."

In an earlier statement, Mr. Armock said growers have weathered the storm. "All of our Riveridge growers are reporting that their apple trees came through winter in excellent condition," he said. "We had no winter damage to speak of because we didn't have any dramatic temperatures swings. We had great snow cover, and we didn't have any stretches of sub-zero weather. Our growers are reporting that their trees are well-rested, well-hydrated and that vast majority of buds are alive and ready to blossom."

"So far, everything has been very positive this year," Ms. Smith added. "The growers have been very happy with the weather so far this spring."

She was asked what kind of volume might be moving through the pipeline this season. "I have heard anywhere from 30 to 35 million bushels thrown out for this year," she replied. "We will know more as the summer progresses."

As was the case for 2012, Michigan growers have 36,500 acres in apple production this season. Statewide, new orchards and blocks are coming into bearing. Ms. Smith was asked if volume will increase as a result this season. "Most definitely," she replied. "Growers have been investing in new orchards and higher density plantings for many years now. A lot of those trees are the unknown this year since they didn't produce last year. [There is] a lot of potential in those newer trees this year."

Ms. Smith said Michigan's apple growers have been very strategic in their decisions about new plantings. "But we all know that we are at Mother Nature's mercy," she noted. "She proved that last year. Quite honestly the varieties planted in Michigan have nothing to do with what was lost last year. It was simply an early warmup that caused the trees to get too far ahead of themselves."

The committee is moving forward full steam to implement its marketing plans for the 2013 season. "We have hired two new account managers -- Michael Bardon of Grand Ledge, MI and Terry Braithwaite of East Wenatchee, WA -- and they started in April," Ms. Smith said. "I think this is further proof of the optimism the growers have for the Michigan apple industry."

Michigan apple growers also passed a referendum this past March to continue the Michigan Apple Advertising and Promotion Program. Passage means the program will continue for an additional five years, beginning on Sept. 1 and ending on Aug. 31, 2018.