Michigan gears up for big comeback

09/05/2013 04:17:00 PM
Andy Nelson

New plantings are yielding much more fruit, promising a bumper crop of Michigan apples this season, said Pat Chase, sales and field representative for Sparta, Mich.-based Pat Brown Produce Inc. SPARTA, Mich. — Michigan grower-shippers and officials expect a huge comeback from a disastrous 2012, with not only big volumes but also good sizing and quality.

Mitch Brinks, salesman for Jack Brown Produce Inc., sums up the 2013 Michigan apple 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, kicked 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 region, which produces 70% of the state’s apples.

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, salesman for Jack Brown.

Big is good, said John Schaefer, 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 began packing paula reds and ginger golds in late August.

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

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

It’s always hard to predict what will happen until fruit is in bins, said Damon Glei, partner in Hillsdale-based Glei’s Inc., but as of mid-August, all signs were good.

“We’re expecting good yields, and with the cool weather we’ve had, we have more color than normal.”

The weather was “very cooperative” through mid-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 Michigan Fruit Guesstimate of 26 million bushels 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.”

“It’s one of our largest, if not the largest,” said Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc.

It’s not too often growers get a season with as little hail as 2013 has produced, Armock said.

Riveridge began shipping paula reds and ginger golds in late August.

Galas were expected to start shipping from southwest Michigan the first week of September, with production from the Fruit Ridge following a week later, Armock said.



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