If historical trends are any indication, Michigan apple growers will have a big bounce-back year in 2013.

Michigan’s apple output was 14 million bushels in 2008, rising to 27 million bushels in 2009, dropping again to 13.5 million bushels in 2010. That smaller crop was followed by the big crop of 23.4 million bushels last year and the paltry 2.5 million bushel crop forecast for this year.

“Our tree fruit survey says that 23% of the apples trees that are in the ground are 5 years old or younger,” said Don Armock, president of Sparta-based Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc.

“We’ve got a surge of young production and will be picking up fairly significant volume in their third and fourth years,” he said.

Looking in the future, Armock said Michigan may be capable of producing a crop of more than 35 million bushels.

“We are going to prepare for a big crop,” said Mike Rothwell, president and general manager of BelleHarvest Sales Inc., Belding, Mich.

Rothwell said he hopes 2013 production is closer to 20 million to 25 million bushels rather than 30 million to 35 million bushels.

“That would allow us to have a transition year, to step back up to the larger crops we all know are coming,” he said.

Investment in frost protection equipment and technology is a trend likely to pick up speed, marketers said.

Growers will move forward with frost protection and perhaps even do so at an accelerated pace, Rothwell said.

Having frost protection this year allowed some growers to do much better than neighbors without frost protection, he said.

Wanting to avoid the yo-yo of up and down production years, Armock said growers are investing substantial sums in frost prevention equipment, including both wind-driven and water-driven technologies.

“We know that we can’t afford the swings we most recently have had in production levels,” he said.

While the odds of another major freeze next year may be a longshot, Barry Winkel, general manager of Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich., also said growers will be motivated to increase their investment in frost protection.

“The problem will be that growers will be short of cash,” he said.

The 2013 crop, even though it could be much larger, will have the advantage of being sold into what will be an empty pipeline, said Scott Swindeman, vice president and sales manager of Deerfield, Mich.-based Applewood Orchards Inc.