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Michigan apple crop appears strong

SPARTA, MI — Don Armock presented his usual professional countenance and positive attitude on the morning of May 16. But his puffy eyes couldn't hide that he was up all but a couple of hours on the previous evening, working with field crews to assure everything possible was done to avoid frost damage to the 2014 apple crop.

Armock was fighting for fruit scheduled for packing and harvesting later this year by Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., which is based here.Sweet-CherriesIn mid-May, Sweet cherry blossoms on Michigan's fruit ridge running through Sparta preceded most apple blossoms by a few days.

Armock, president and a partner in the organization, said that temperatures need to fall to 28 or 29 degrees to damage the apple crop, which was generally several days away from bloom. Temperatures around 24 degrees will ruin an apple crop. But with the help of wind machines and temperatures that weren't dangerously below freezing, Armock expected no damage from the previous night.

As Riveridge and Michigan's other grower-packer-shippers think about the coming harvest, they are still finishing the 2013 crop.

Armock said Riveridge is 95 percent complete in shipping its storage crop. It should be finished by the end of June, "but some of our plants finished packing last week. It was a phenomenal marketing year for apples in general. For Michigan, it far exceeded expectations."

Armock indicated there was some concern that the demand for the 2013 crop might have been harmed after a market vacuum when the state's apples were almost literally wiped out by cold weather in the spring of 2012. That concern proved not to be at all a factor, and Michigan apples were in great demand.

Sweet cherries on Michigan famous Fruit Ridge were blossoming May 15-16. Armock said plums blossomed there about May 11.

"We have some apples that are in first bud," he said May 16. "Some have opened on our early varieties but the bloom is really to begin early next week. That is seven to 10 days later than normal." Those blossoms will then "set the stage for timing of the crop."

While marketers like early production, Armock said, "It is really better if the crop is later because the apples are harvested in later 'apple weather.'"

This means cooler temperatures at harvest time in mid-September. Apple varieties like Gala, McIntosh and Honeycrisp have the best flavor when they gain color with those late summer dropping temperatures.

"There is an economic threshold you need to harvest and you need a certain color to be economically viable. Sometimes you do not get a lot of color until harvest. If that is a little later, you are more likely to avoid pitfalls."

The 2013 crop "had the potential for a full crop but it didn't quite become a full crop. This year it has the potential to be a full crop" and may very well meet that potential, Armock said.