Galas remain one of the most popular apple varieties grown in Michigan, where apple season is rapidly ramping up. ( Photo courtesy North Bay Produce )

Volume and sizing of the Michigan apple crop should be up this season compared to last year as the fall harvest gets underway.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast calls for 1.18 billion pounds, a 40% increase from the 840 million pounds produced in 2017.

The crop likely will fall short of a record, said Diane Smith, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Apple Committee.

The state’s largest apple crop — 1.28 billion pounds — was recorded in 2016.

Smith attributed the favorable crop to good springtime weather and no major weather incidents — like summertime hail — to cause a decrease in size.

There wasn’t much rain this season, but she said many growers have irrigation systems.

“They had to use (irrigation) a little bit more than they normally would have to,” she said.

Growers seemed optimistic as the early harvest kicked off.

"We've got size, we've got sugar, we've got color."

“We have a great crop,” said Chris Sandwick, vice president of sales and marketing for BelleHarvest Sales Inc., Belding, Mich.

Last year was an off year, he said, so this year’s production will be up by a good percentage.

“We have a lot of apples, and the growing conditions have allowed it to finish,” Sandwick said. “We’ve got size, we’ve got sugar, we’ve got color.”

That’s good news, he said, because sometimes, with a big crop, the trees don’t have the energy to finish producing.

“We’ve been fortunate this year,” he said. “We’ve had the right amount of moisture and the right amount of sunlight.”

The company also has a lot of young plantings that are starting to mature.

“We’ve got a lot of really nice fruit,” Sandwick said.

North Bay Produce, Traverse City, Mich., started its first substantial apple variety — paula reds — on schedule on Aug. 17, said Ken Korson, apple category manager.

“Overall, it’s been a pretty good growing season,” he said. “We had great pollination. We have a really nice crop.”

But he said that the harvest could have started a few days earlier if nighttime temperatures had been a bit lower.

“We could use some cooler nights,” he said Aug. 14. “It’s definitely a little hot.”

And he said the region was a bit drier than growers would like.

Temperatures did drop somewhat in late August, and the area received some rainfall, but still, he said fruit could be off a size.

That could be a good thing, though, because smaller-size fruit may be able to better compete with large apples out of Washington, he said.

Glei’s Inc., Hillsdale, Mich., also kicked off with some early summer varieties but expected to begin its main season with galas around Labor Day, said Damon Glei, president and owner.

“We have a fair quantity of crop, and quality looks pretty good so far,” he said in mid-August.

Conditions are much better than last year, when frost damage resulted in some marked-up apples.

“It was pretty poor-quality fruit,” he said.

The company usually ships apples 10 months out of the year, but came up short last year because of the poor quality, Glei said.

“We have a fair quantity of crop, and quality looks pretty good so far."

The company also lost some trees, mostly certain ages of the fuji variety, as a result of latent winter damage that had been building over the years.

BelleHarvest started its early summer apples on schedule in mid-August, Sandwick said.

Gala and mcintosh, the company’s first mainstream varieties, were expected to start by Labor Day.

Honeycrisp and fuji will follow by mid-September, “then cascade from there,” he said.

“From the first week of September through Halloween, we pick up a little bit every week.”

He expected harvesting to end by the first week of November.