CHICAGO — Mike Rothwell must be getting used to this.
Once again, Rothwell, president and general manager of BelleHarvest Sales Inc., Belding, Mich., stood up at the end of the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association’s annual marketing meeting in Chicago Aug. 19 to tell his fellow shippers and marketers about the latest madness out of the Wolverine State.
“Year 5 of the roller coaster,” he said.
He’s not exaggerating.
About 26 million boxes of apples are expected to ship from Michigan this coming season.
That’s 86% more than Michigan growers shipped last season.
And here’s what Rothwell had to report at last year’s convention: a 2010-11 crop in the 15 million bushel range, 43% less than the year before.
At the 2009 show, Rothwell confessed to being a bit weak in the knees heading into that year’s new crop.
Nothing much, other than a crop that was 82% bigger than the one the season before.
As someone who’s witnessed all of Rothwell’s recent performances on the roller coaster, I have to say, it’s given him ample opportunity to hone his standup comedy act, should he ever decide to branch out into that industry.
At this year’s conference, he shared with attendees the kind of conversation he imagines having with customers in coming months:
“Remember me? I was your best friend two years ago. Last year you didn’t see me, but I want you to know that this year, you’re the most important person in my life.”
Earlier in the conference, meanwhile, Rothwell’s wife, Julia Rothwell, made a forceful case for comprehensive immigration reform.
Julia, of Belding-based Belding Fruit Storage, is U.S. Apple’s chairwoman.
“Too many growers are coming close to not having enough workers” to pick their crops, she told attendees.
“This is intolerable and must be fixed.”
In fact, immigration reform will be U.S. Apple’s top priority in the coming year, Julia Rothwell said.
“The time is now, not when we’re faced with the catastrophe of apples rotting on trees.”
She added a personal touch to her argument, sharing with attendees photographs of laborers she worked side-by-side with as a child and young woman in her parents’ apple orchards.
When she was very young, those workers came from Arkansas and other U.S. states.
As she got older, they were replaced by Mexicans. Many became good friends.
Julia Rothwell’s “state of the union” speech also touched on the importance of fighting hard for other industry priorities in the current belt-tightening federal budget environment.
Market Access Program funds, which help U.S. growers expand exports, and research into fighting the brown marmorated stink bug are among those priorities in 2011-12, she said.
What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.