BELDING, Mich. — Those over the age of 40 or so may remember the TV movie “The Day After,” released in the 1980s at the height of the Cold War, which tracked the aftermath of a nuclear war.
Even if they don’t use similar phrasing, grower-shippers, packers, brokers and others whose livelihood depends on Mother Nature’s treatment of Michigan apple trees will likely think of 2013 as being “The Year After.”
The year after, that is, the most devastating crop losses in almost every living industry member’s memory.
Eighty-five percent losses, to be exact, thanks to late spring freezes in 2012 that followed abnormally warm weather that brought on crops early.
By early August, sheds had been quiet for about nine months. That’s unprecedented, said Mike Rothwell, chief executive officer of BelleHarvest Sales Inc.
Despite that long layoff, growers, packers and industry officials said the industry was in good shape heading into 2013.
“Luckily, the 2011 crop was a good one,” said Pat Chase, salesman for Sparta-based Jack Brown Produce Inc.
“Good volume at good prices, and we shipped late into the summer. Luckily, we went into 2012 with the cupboard fairly full.”
Packers like Jack Brown weren’t protected by crop insurance, but many of Michigan’s apple growers were, which helped ease the pain of 2012, Chase said. Low-interest loans from the State of Michigan also provided much-needed assistance.
“Considering the magnitude of the disaster, people weathered it well,” Chase said.
That’s not to say Chase wants to have to go through 2012 again.
“It was an historic crop loss, and hopefully we’ll never see it in my lifetime again.”
With all that time off, grower-shippers and marketers were better able to prepare for a big comeback in 2013, said Don Armock, president of Sparta, Mich.-based Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc.
“We’ve been scheming for a year and a few months,” he said.
“We’ve had plenty of time to think through promotional activities, and we’re expecting a very busy fall.”
The lost season did not pass without a fair amount of pain. The Lansing-based Michigan Apple Committee, for instance, was forced to lay off one staff member and furlough others, said Diane Smith, executive director.
But earlier this year the committee’s board gave Smith the green light to hire a director of finance, her former position. Smith has been doing both jobs.
“We’ll be back to being fully staffed,” she said.
Strong retail support will help everyone forget 2012, said Chris Sandwick, vice president of sales and marketing for BelleHarvest.
“We’re very excited with the reception we’ve gotten,” Sandwick said. “I haven’t spoken to a customer yet who hasn’t shown anything less than full support.”