May frosts in Michigan are expected to make considerable dents in the state’s apple and other fruit crops, grower-shippers said.

Frosts hurt Michigan apples, other fruit

Ashley Bentley

At Sodus, Mich.-based Leitz Farms, damage from the frost was hit and miss, says Fred Leitz, partner. In one of his orchards, trees of one variety were completely bare, while another variety a row over were still blooming. Leitz says it will take some time before all the damage can be assessed, as some buds will stay on the tree, but won’t continue to grow.



The Dewitt-based Michigan Apple Committee will have a better idea of losses when it makes its pre-season estimate June 16, but some early estimates forecast a crop just 60% of normal size, said Denise Donohue, the committee’s executive director.

In a typical year, Michigan, the country’s third-largest apple grower, ships about 19.3 million bushels, Donohue said.
Damage varied extensively from orchard to orchard and was spread throughout the state, she said.

Two-thirds of the red delicious apples in the southwestern part of Michigan were lost due to three freezes, said Barry Winkel, general manager of Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Greg Orchards & Produce.

Between a quarter and a third of the region’s galas and golden delicious also were lost, Winkel said. Losses in other varieties were not as high, he said.

Donohue had heard reports that Michigan galas fared well and reds poorly.

“Last year was such a huge crop, and normally when that happens, the buds come back weak anyway,” Winkel said. “Then there were three frosts.”

Unseasonably warm weather earlier in the growing season, which pushed blooms ahead by up to two weeks, also contributed to the damage, making trees more vulnerable to late frosts, Donohue said.

Peaches, nectarines, blueberries and other fruits were not hit as hard as apples, Winkel said.

Hillsdale, Mich.-based Glei’s Inc., in southern Michigan,  lost about 30% of its apple crop, with reds, gingergolds and an early-blooming mcintosh variety taking the brunt of the damage, said Owen Glei, president and part owner.

“With what we’ve been through, I’m surprised with what we have,” Glei said. “It looks like a fair crop, all things considered.”

Some apples that survived the cold snap have marking and dimpling, Glei said. Size, however, should not be affected.

The company’s peaches made it through the freezes in good shape and its pears in reasonably good shape, Glei said.

Blueberry losses in Michigan could be as much as 10% of the total crop, said Frank Bragg, chief executive officer of Grand Junction, Mich.-based MBG Marketing.

“There are some low-lying fields that may have 30% to 40% loss, but for the entire state it looks more like 10%,” he said.
An official estimate won't be out until the week of June 14, but Bragg said the 2010 Michigan crop could be between 90 million and 110 million pounds.