BELDING, Mich. — Michigan’s apple industry is poised for a bountiful year thanks to favorable weather and stronger markets, boosting the spirits of growers such as Tom Curtis.
Growers benefitted from a nearly perfect growing season, Curtis said, as they avoided frost during the spring bloom period and then had abundant rainfall and heat over the summer. Curtis said production from his company, All Fresh GPS LLC, may be up as much as 50% over last year.
“We have a very nice crop coming,” Curtis said in early August. He’s co-managing director at All Fresh, which owns orchards covering more than 1,500 acres and also packs and distributes fruit.
“We’ve had a significant amount of 90-degree days, which really makes the apples grow. It’s a good combination to make nice fruit. I’m excited for the year we’ve had.”
Several other growers echoed Curtis’ assessment, underscoring the prospect Michigan’s 2011 apple crop will rank among the state’s five largest harvests over the past two decades.
Apple prices are expected to strengthen further as retailers turn to Michigan to offset smaller crops in New York and Washington.
Michigan’s apple crop is projected at 1.05 billion pounds, or about 25 million bushels, up 78% from 2010, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate released Aug. 11.
Since 1988, only four other years produced bigger crops, including the record 29 million bushels harvested in 1995, according to USDA data.
Nationwide, apple production is estimated at about 226.5 million bushels, up 2% from 2010, the USDA said in August. Michigan, the No. 3 apple state behind Washington and New York, will account for about 11% of total U.S. production this year, based on USDA projections.
The state’s apple crop generates farm-level revenue of about $125 million a year, according to the Michigan Apple Committee.
For Michigan growers, this year’s growing season brought welcome contrasts to 2010, when production plunged nearly 50% from 2009 after spring frosts and excessively wet conditions hurt the crop. Growers expect high quality from this year’s crop, with many apples at least one size larger than normal.
As of the beginning of August, the Michigan apple crop was in excellent condition, the USDA said. No significant spring frost occurrences were reported, and above-normal temperatures prevailed in July, bringing apple maturity to average levels, according to the USDA.
Growing conditions weren’t ideal for everyone. Damon Glei, part owner of Glei’s Inc., Hillsdale, said some of his apples suffered from sunburn and had worse than normal scab problems during the spring. Still, by early August Glei’s appeared to be clear of scab, and the company expected to harvest a full crop, he said.
Harvest was under way by the second week of August for many growers. Curtis said All Fresh began picking paula red apples by mid-August and ginger golds about a week later and expected to harvest mcintosh and gala shortly after Labor Day. Red delicious was on schedule for late September, with the entire harvest expected to be completed by the end of October, near the normal pace, he said.
Because of a shortfall in the Washington crop, stepped-up demand from processors and retailers was expected to soak up Michigan’s larger supplies, growers said, and early harvest prices were strengthening.
Grower prices for fresh apples in the Michigan region averaged 58 cents a pound during July, up from 6 cents from June and up 11 cents, or 23%, from July 2010, according to the USDA.
Barry Winkel, general manager for Greg Orchards and Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, said markets are shaping up in growers’ favor.
“It looks like the pipeline is empty,” Winkel said Aug. 8. “All the Michigan processors are out looking for fruit” for juice, sauce and other products, he said. “We just have no carryover, which is a great way to be.”