Fruit growers ready to bounce back

06/14/2013 02:21:00 PM
David Mitchell

Severe weather — coming in the form of frost, drought and hail — took its toll on Michigan fruit a year ago. Official crop estimates for 2013 won’t be available until June 19, but growers said they expect a much better summer this time.

“Last year was tough in relation to fruit, but this year looks much better with good size crops,” said Tyler Hodges, sales manager for Todd Greiner Farms, Hart, Mich.

“The trees have a good set, and we’re excited to have something to play with again.”

Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich., grows 800 acres of tree fruit and also sells produce for about 50 other growers. But the company didn’t do much selling in 2012.

“It was a year of clean up and painting,” said part owner Barry Winkel.

“We never started any equipment. There was nothing. Michigan completely blanked out. This year looks good. We have good crops of all the tree fruit. Hopefully, we’ll get back on our feet.”

Winkel said blueberry harvest is expected to get under way the first week in July, and the tart cherry harvest is expected to start after the Fourth of July. Michigan ranks among the nation’s top three producers in both of those commodities.

Steve Spiech, president of Spiech Farms LLC, Lawton, Mich., said early blueberry varieties have a heavy set, and it won’t take long for growers to reach peak volume.

“Volume is going to be up,” he said.

“Last year there were poor sets in some areas. This year, it’s all solid.”

Spiech said volume starts winding down in early September.

Phillip Korson, executive director of the Michigan Cherry Committee, DeWitt, said the cherry harvest should last into mid-August.

“We’ve had a little bit of frost damage, but right now it looks like we have a really nice crop coming. We’re excited about what we see in the orchards right now,” he said.

Peaches, nectarines and apricots should start the second week of July, Winkel said.

Michigan is the nation’s third largest apple producer with more than 20 million bushels a year. Last year, the state produced less than 4 million bushels.

“Our trees are back healthy,” Winkel said.

“They usually come back with a heavy bloom after a down year. The trick with apples is you have to thin some of the crop or you have small fruit. The crop is looking like one of our biggest. We should have an excellent crop and excellent quality.”

Winkel said apple harvest should start in mid-August. Paula reds will be the first variety off the trees.

Fred Leitz Jr. of Leitz Farms LLC, Sodus, Mich., acknowledged trees tend to bounce back after a down year, but he also said the drought Michigan endured last summer occurred when trees should have been forming buds for this year.

“We probably have some weak trees out there,” said Leitz, a member of the U.S. Apple Association’s board of directors.

Still, Leitz called it an above-average crop.

“There’s a good crop out there, but I don’t think it will be a bin-buster. I think it will be a pretty good crop,” he said.

Grape harvest should start in September and last through December, said Spiech, whose company expanded its grape operations by 35 acres since last year.

That new acreage should help offset an isolated Memorial Day weekend frost that cost Spiech 15% of its grape crop.

“It’s going to be one of the largest grape crops we’ve ever had,” Spiech said. “It’s still a very large crop.”



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