(Sept. 8) Despite being exposed to nearly every imaginable form of weather this season, the Michigan apple crop should be impressive, grower-shippers said.

The majority of trees dodged hail, frost and wind, and growers said the hot and cool weather and rain could increase volumes of good-sized, colorful fruit.

“We have a really nice crop. We’ve had everything we need to make nice big fruit,” said Bruce Heeren, marketing director for Michigan Fresh Marketing LLC, Belding, which packs for 50-60 growers. “It’s probably as big as you’ll see this time of year.”

Preseason, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted a 16.1 million-bushel production for Michigan’s 2006 crop, but the Michigan Apple Committee, DeWitt, is expecting a crop of about 19 million bushels on the 42,500 bearing acres in the state. After the 2006 U.S. Apple Association Outlook and Marketing Conference on Aug. 17-18, three larger shippers in Michigan agreed that 19 million was a better estimate, so the committee is adhering to U.S. Apple’s numbers, said Denise Yockey, executive director of the committee.

“We’ve got a few growers on the ridge who are saying they haven’t had a crop this big in a while,” Yockey said. “The closer we get to harvest, the better people are feeling.”

The majority of grower-shippers in the Fruit Ridge area, which accounts for 65% of Michigan’s apple production, and in the southern region, which has about 20% of the production, anticipate volumes will be up slightly from last year.

Heeren predicts production of about 1 million bushels, and Barry Winkel, part owner and general manager of Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich., forecasts a crop of about a half-million bushels.

Mike Rothwell, president and general manager of BelleHarvest Sales Inc., Belding, is expects a 5% to 10% increase.

“We’re excited. It’s looking better than last season,” said Rothwell, whose company packs for 150 growers in Michigan.

Northwest Michigan, which supplies about 12% to 15% of the state’s overall production, will have setbacks. Grand Traverse, Manistee, Benzie and Mason counties were declared disaster zones after late spring frosts, unseasonably cold nights (dipping down to 22 degrees in May) and severe windstorms plagued the area, Yockey said.

Dale Drake, president and general manager of Shafer Lake Fruit Inc., Hartford, Mich., said a few of his growers were affected by the inclement weather, but not enough to interfere with an overall solid crop from Shafer Lake Fruit this year.

“We’ve been blessed with a good quality crop,” Drake said. “We’ve had horrendous heat, one of our growers experienced hail, we had unexpected cold weather and some of the goldens frosted, but we’re still optimistic.”

Growers said harvests began somewhat ahead of schedule — the third and fourth weeks of August for early varieties. Some late-season varieties will be ready for harvest in October.


Some shippers believe the marketplace looks more favorable than in the past.

Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc. Sparta, Mich., said this year’s crop is emerging as a very movable and marketable one nationwide.

“We’re expecting better markets awnd better pricing,” said Armock, whose company represents about one-third of the fresh apple crop in Michigan. “We’re hoping for a year where we recover costs that have increased dramatically.”

Pat Chase, sales and field representative for Jack Brown Produce Inc., Sparta, said the 2005 marketing season ended on a strong note and that he expects the 2006 market to be strong.

“The old crop’s going to be cleaned up and gone when the new marketing season begins,” Chase said.

Jack Brown Produce stores, packs and markets for about 60 growers in Michigan.

“The market today is pretty bullish, but it’s looking like a pretty manageable crop this year,” he said.