Unfortunately for growers and consumers, Michigan has an apple crop that will sell itself in 2012.

With a crop forecasted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at just 2.5 million (42-pound) bushels, 2012 apple output in Michigan is down 89% from the 2011 and 87% from the five-year average. That will leave a lot of buyers and consumers coming up empty in their searches for Michigan apples.

While the U.S. Apple Association estimate put out a forecast in mid-August of 3.5 million bushels for the state, shippers will offer only light supplies of fresh apples from the state.

Gala harvest was expected to begin around Labor Day, industry leaders said in August.

“We never would have dreamed, with as many trees in Michigan that we have, that we could grow so few apples, but we did,” said Scott Swindeman, vice president and sales manager of Deerfield, Mich.-based Applewood Orchards Inc.

Don Armock, president of Sparta-based Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., said some orchards were not economical to spray and thus could yield little or no fruit. Armock said the firm has one producing area with about 8% of a crop and will be harvested, while another operation has just 4% of a crop and won’t be harvested.

Armock said that Riveridge expects to be done selling fruit by about Nov. 1.

“We don’t plan on opening up,” said Barry Winkel, general manager of Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich.

He said the company’s orchards in southwest Michigan growing area — about an hour and a half south of Grand Rapids area — have virtually no fruit.

Mike Rothwell, president and general manager of BelleHarvest Sales Inc., Belding, Mich., said his company expects to harvest about 11% of 2011 crop year volume.

“We are probably going to run sometime into November, but I don’t know how far,” Rothwell said.

A few doing better

Applewood Orchards is one of the few operations with a significant crop in the state. Swindeman said the firm sources apples in the southeast Michigan. Applewood Orchards last year merged its marketing efforts with Michigan Fresh Marketing LLC, Belding, and sells under the company name of AllFresh GPS LLC, Swindeman said.

“We feel we have about 75% of a crop on our own farms,” Swindeman said. He said he expects the firm to offer fruit into January or February — still about five or six months sooner than the firm would like to be done — but longer than anyone else in the state.

“We just didn’t get the severe low temperatures as the west side of the state,” he said.

Swindeman said frost protection equipment also played an important role in preserving the crop.

“Without frost protection, we would have gotten fried,” he said.

Dan Heeren, vice president of Michigan Fresh Marketing LLC, Belding, said some orchards in his area may harvest a crop close to 20% of normal.

He said the firm expects to put some apples into controlled-atmosphere storage and extend marketing of fresh apples until the first of the year, he said.

Market strength

Swindeman said he expects that bags of fruit will open in the $32-34 per carton range, with tray pack fruit in the $40-44 per carton range. Consumers will likely see 3-pound bags of apples priced near $4.99 per bag range, Swindeman said.

Holding substantial amounts of apples this season has put him in contact with many retailers looking for fruit, he said.

The short crop put early supplies of gingergolds and paulareds in the $28-30 per carton range as of Aug. 23.

Retailers used to handling Michigan apples won’t have the volume or mix of fruit they are accustomed to, but they will have some fruit, he said. “We are going to have little bit of all varieties, and some won’t go very far at all,” he said.

Honeycrisp is one variety that will be extremely tight, he said.

Varieties that have fared better than average include galas, golden delicious and jonathans, Rothwell said.

Annette Bjorge, owner of Fruit Acres Farms and Farm Market, Coloma, Mich., said her operation only expects to have fruit until late October from the short 10% of normal crop. The company’s farm market also plans to look to other apple suppliers in Michigan and Ohio to help make up for local supply, she said.