I had the chance to chat on April 6 with Don Armock, president of Sparta, Mich.-based Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc.
10:00 a.m. Tom Karst: What are you working on this week?
10:01 a.m. Don Armock: Well, for the first time (at this time of year) since I've been in this end of the business, we're done shipping and selling for the season, with some slight exceptions. So I'm working on cleanup things and we have new farms so I'm working on that sort of thing too.
10:02 a.m. Karst: Is there any way you typically wind up the year after your season? Do you take a vacation after all the apples are sold?
10:03 a.m. Armock: Usually I work right into the next season. A few years back we had a really short crop and I sat down with my staff and told them to take all their vacation and then take another month and told them I’d see them back here (after that). So then I looked in the mirror and told myself I can do that too, so I got together with some of my buddies and took a motorcycle trip, 9,500 miles all over the continental U.S. This year, I have had this South Africa trip in mind where I want to hit five countries over the course of the month. I would very much like to that if my cohort doesn’t back out. Otherwise I own a house on Lake Michigan. I may just disappear out there and do a lot of thinking.
10:04 a.m. Karst: This was an unusual year, with the shorter crop here in Michigan but a larger crop in Washington. How do you feel like the season went overall for Michigan apple marketers?
10:04 a.m. Armock: Given that we had a very short crop, (the season) all worked really well. We had unprecedented demand early on for the size of crop. We literally finished up the old crop and started packing the new crop at the same time and at the same kind of pace or even a stronger pace, so it went great. We got reasonable money for the product that we were able to pack. We had reduced packouts but it could have been a lot worse.
10:05 a.m. Karst: What do trends do you see in the Michigan apple industry? Are growers expanding their acreage?
10:05 a.m. Armock: I think these are pretty exciting times in the Michigan industry and the apple business in general. Basically a lot of growers are in an expansion mode, and that's driven by a number of things. One of the keys had been that we went through some tough times at the turn of the century and during that period of time, we became a lot more consumer oriented in terms of our variety mix by virtue of the fact that we had to change what we were growing to match with what the consumer was wanting to buy. We changed a lot of our production systems and we flat out got better because the times forced us to. We are right on the cusp of the expansion that has taken place in the last five years and we are starting to generate a lot more volume.