Michigan apple industry comes roaring back

08/13/2013 04:41:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Michigan apple grower-shippers expect a huge comeback from 2012, when the majority of crops were lost to a late freeze.

Damon Glei, partner in Hillsdale, Mich.-based Glei’s Inc., and other Michigan grower-shippers expect heavy volumes of high-quality apples this season.Andy NelsonDamon Glei, partner in Hillsdale, Mich.-based Glei’s Inc., and other Michigan grower-shippers, expect heavy volumes of high-quality apples this season.Mitch Brinks, sales representative for Sparta-based Jack Brown Produce Inc., sums up the 2013 season about as succinctly as it can be stated.

“We have a crop this year,” Brinks said.

The fact that 2012 was so bad is part of the reason 2013 is looking so good, said Chris Sandwick, vice president of sales and marketing for Belding-based BelleHarvest Sales Inc.

“After taking a year off, the trees have a lot of stored energy,” Sandwick said.

Volume alone is nice, Sandwick said, but that’s not all this season’s crop has going for it.

“A big crop is not always a good crop, but this crop is finishing well, with good size.”

Tom Curtis, president of Belding-based All Fresh GPS, said the 2013 crop will be one of Michigan’s biggest on record.

Curtis’s personal estimate easily tops the first “official” estimate of 26 million bushels earlier this season, when the Wolverine State released its annual Fruit Guesstimate.

“I’ve been kicking around 28 to 30 million bushels,” he said. “We’re kind of excited. We had a lot of rain early, the cell division has been good. We haven’t had the heat, fruit is starting to it put on pretty good color, and it’s been sizing really well.”

All Fresh GPS, which markets fruit grown by several Michigan producers, expects to kick off harvest the week of Aug. 19 with paula reds, with ginger golds following closely behind, Curtis said. It’s about a normal start for fruit from Michigan’s Fruit Ridge, which produces 70% of the state’s apples.

And a big-volume crop this year won’t likely mean smaller sizes, as it often does, grower-shippers and packers said.

“Fruit size is good on all varieties, about a size bigger than normal,” said Pat Chase, sales and field representative for Jack Brown.

Big is good, said John Schaefer, the company’s president.

“They’re the more preferred sizes retailers like.”

Growing weather in 2013 has been near-perfect, Schaefer said, with very little hail or other adverse conditions.

“We’ve been very fortunate. This could be the ‘vintage crop’ Mitch has been looking for.”

Jack Brown expects to begin packing paula reds and ginger golds about the week of Aug. 19.

“We started a little late, but everything’s evened out,” Chase said.

Galas, macintoshes and Honeycrisps will likely follow after Labor Day, followed by jonathans, red delicious and others, he said.

The weather has been “very cooperative” through early August, said Diane Smith, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Apple Committee.

“Everything’s looking very good,” Smith said. “We expect a high-quality crop, and the sizing is nice. After last year, no one knew what would happen this year.”

The annual Michigan Fruit Guesstimate put the state’s apple crop at about 26 million bushels, but that could be on the short end, Smith said.

“I’ve heard anything from 26 million and up, which would leave room for a record crop.”



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