Growing conditions have been great for gala apples and other varieties this season, says Ken Korson, apple category manager for North Bay Produce, Traverse City, Mich. Michigan's apple crop is expected to be down from last year's because of a spring frost, he says.
( Courtesy North Bay Produce )

Michigan apple volume will be down this year compared to last year, it was announced at the 2017 U.S. Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference in Chicago Aug. 25, but grower-shippers say there still will be plenty of good-quality fruit to go around.

Growers are expected to ship 20.3 million bushels (852.6 million pounds) of apples this season, according to the U.S. Apple estimate.

Last year, the state produced 28 million bushels, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Average production is 23 million to 24 million bushels.

The drop was due largely to a frost in the spring, said Diane Smith, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Apple Committee.

Also, the crop seems to be somewhat cyclical.

“Coming off of two big years, I’m kind of not surprised by (the lower estimate),” she said.

Smith said things could be much worse for growers.

“It’s not a repeat of past years, where we had a really bad situation,” she said. “We’re going to have plenty of good-quality Michigan apples out there.”

A change seems to be taking place in the ratio of fresh-market apples versus processing apples, she added.

Historically, 60% of Michigan’s apples went to processors with the remainder destined for the fresh market.


Apple harvest

North Bay Produce, Traverse City, Mich., started harvesting paula reds and ginger golds Aug. 18, a couple of days earlier than usual, said Ken Korson, apple category manager.

The company already had been packing some early varieties and kicked off its Zestar harvest around Aug. 21.

Zestar is a fairly new, early apple that is similar to mcintosh but a little harder and sweeter, he said.

It’s a fairly popular variety, but not a lot are grown in Michigan, he said. It has a brief season of about 10 days.

North Bay Produce had a record year last season, Korson said, but he expects this year’s crop to be down 20% to 30% primarily because of the spring frost.

“In Michigan, it seems like every three or four years, we have a frost of some sort,” he said, adding that frosts often are followed by a large crop the following year.

Core Farms LLC, Hartford, Mich., doesn’t grow early varieties, so owner Roger Kropf didn’t expect to start until after Labor Day, when he said he will be doing some “serious packing” of mcintosh apples.

He will follow up with galas and start other varieties — Honeycrisp, jonathan, golden delicious and red delicious — from Sept. 5-20.

The frost in Michigan alone likely will not have a major impact on the apple market, he said, but he added that hail damage to fruit in New York could have an effect in the East.

Kropf said he would like to see his opening prices hold throughout the season.

For the past couple of years, prices opened at decent levels but started to slide around Christmas.

“That hurts the overall returns on apples for the growers,” he said.

Jack Brown Produce Inc., Sparta, Mich., started ginger golds and paula reds in mid-August and expected to be going strong with galas and Honeycrisps by mid-September, followed by fujis, said Tom Labbe, sales manager.

He expected to see plenty of size 138s, which many of his customers prefer, and expected this year’s crop to provide “a really good eating experience.”

There are more than 11.3 million apple trees in commercial production in Michigan covering 35,500 acres on 825 family-run farms, according to the Michigan Apple Committee.