The Michigan apple industry is not expected to set another volume record for the second year in a row, but it will come close, said Diane Smith, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Apple Committee.
“It’s nice to go from 30 (million boxes) to just under 29 (million),” she said.
That’s because in the recent past, Michigan has been known as something of a roller coaster, Smith said — big volumes one year, followed by a light crop, followed by another big crop, etc.
Getting off that roller coaster is a good thing, and Smith thinks she knows the cause.
“It really shows that with the new plantings that have been going in for several years, we’re seeing an influx of apples in what technically is a ‘down’ year.”
The new high-density plantings that are going in Michigan orchards can mean up to quadruple the number of trees in a given area, Smith said.
“It’s amazing how many they can fit in with trellises.”
The 2014-15 crop, while not a record, will be one of the biggest in Michigan’s history, Smith said.
Many factors have contributed to the crop’s size, she said. One was excellent growing weather this spring and summer — cool nights, plenty of rain and enough sunshine.
Sparta, Mich.-based Jack Brown Produce Inc.’s production could be up slightly this year because of new high-density plantings, said John Schaefer, the company’s president.
In fact, he said, Fruit Ridge production in general could be up, even from last year’s record volumes. Lighter production in southwest Michigan could be what’s keeping Michigan from a second record crop in a row.
In addition to the new, denser production, timely rains were one of the main factors in the heavy Ridge production this season, Schaefer said.
Don Armock, president of Sparta-based Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., estimates Michigan growers will ship about 28 million or 29 million bushels of apples this year — short of the record crop of about 30 million bushels, but still big.
“It should be fairly similar to last year, maybe a little lighter.”
Even in comparison with the record-breaking crop of 2013, it’s hard to top this year’s growing weather in Michigan, Armock said.
“Last year was very clean, and this year is literally the cleanest crop we’ve had. There was no frost in the spring. It should pack out very well.”
Some growers suffered isolated hail damage this summer, but the overall effect on product was minimal, Armock said.
Growers enjoyed adequate rains and slightly lower temperatures than normal, and Armock reported very even maturity levels as of mid-August.
Slightly higher temperatures would have been preferable at times, but Armock said growers were more than happy with the uniform maturing the cooler weather helped provide.
For some varieties retailers prefer to see on the big side, sizes will peak on 72s and 88s, Armock said. For varieties better suited to bags, there will also be plenty of smaller fruit.
In short, there should be ample volumes of all the sizes Riveridge is looking for.
“The size is in our target zone,” Armock said. “We have the whole spectrum.”
Bruce Heeren, partner in Belding, Mich.-based All Fresh GPS, agreed that quality should be outstanding this season.
“At this point, it’s looking as good as it possibly can,” he said. “The quality is excellent this season. Fruit is very clean.”
Sizing also should be better on some key varieties, Heeren said.
“Fruit is sizing very well, especially on varieties that tend to run smaller. Last year galas were small, this year they’re sizing well.”
Barry Winkel, general manager of Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich., expected a crop of about two-thirds the size of a full crop in southwest Michigan.
After a big crop such as the region had in 2013, it’s not unusual for the following year to be smaller, Winkel said.
In addition to that, growers contended with Mother Nature this season.
“The winter was really cold, and in the spring we had a couple of frosts,” Winkel said. “But it’s not a disaster by any means.”
Growers reported excellent color in late August, Winkel said. The color on some fruit was so bright, he said, it looked like it could be picked in late August, even though it still had weeks left on the tree.
And that wasn’t the only thing going for the 2014 crop.
“The crop is clean, the size profile is medium to large,” Winkel said.
“So far, it’s more of a manageable size profile than last year. I think it will be a good year as far as quality goes.”
Chris Sandwick, vice president of sales and marketing for Belding, Mich.-based BelleHarvest Sales Inc., agreed with other shippers and officials that it’s nice to get off the Michigan volume roller coaster.
“It’s a big crop for the second year in a row, and we’re excited to be out of the up, down, up, down.”
Sandwick expects increased exports to Central and South America this season to help move the big crop, which for BelleHarvest includes a near-doubling of its Honeycrisp volumes.