Freeze cuts Michigan apple crop by more than 50%BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — More than half of Michigan’s apple crop — possibly much more — could be lost due to late-April freezes, and the state’s southwestern fruit production is a near-total loss.

The damage to that part of the state applies to apples, peaches, plums and cherries.

“Essentially, there is no tree fruit in southwest Michigan,” Barry Winkel, general manager of Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., said May 16. “We’ve been saying we need to wait and see. Well, we’ve waited. In this business, you don’t want to face the reality. You want to hope there’s something out there, but there isn’t.”

This year’s losses are unprecedented, Winkel said.

“My uncle, who is 81 and still a partner here, said he can’t remember anything like this,” he said.

The Michigan Legislature passed a resolution May 16, asking President Barack Obama to declare southwest Michigan a disaster area. The designation would allow low-interest loans and other federal assistance, according to the resolution.

Grower-shippers in the Fruit Ridge region of Michigan, where the majority of the state’s apples are grown, said they should have a much better handle on the extent of damage in June. What isn’t in doubt is that it will be substantial.

“We’ve been telling our customers not to expect more than 50% (of normal volumes), and that may be very optimistic,” said Tom Pletcher, vice president of sales and marketing at BelleHarvest Sales Inc., Belding, Mich. “We’re going to have fruit, and it’s going to be a reduced amount, we’re just not sure what that amount will be.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Michigan shipped the equivalent of nearly 4.8 million 40-pound cartons of apples last season. As the current season winds down, shipments are about 7.4 million 40-pound cartons, following last year's season, which was hampered by frosts and too much rain.

By June 1, Sparta, Mich.-based Riveridge Produce expects to know the extent of damage, said Don Armock, president.

“I thought we’d know by now, but we didn’t start to get warm weather until the last three or four days,” Armock said May 16. “We have some side bloom that appears to be viable. But we got some pretty significant damage.”

In some areas, temperatures dipped to 22, but in others, they never got below 32, Armock said.

At Hart, Mich., northwest of the Fruit Ridge region, losses are also heavy, said Tyler Hodges, sales manager of Hart-based Todd Greiner Farms.

“There may be 5% left,” Hodges said May 16, referring to all tree fruit in the region. “It’s going to hurt a lot of people.”