Michigan’s apple crop set a record last year, and this year will likely come close.
With new, higher-density plantings coming online, more big crops are in the future.
But shippers like Don Armock, president of Sparta, Mich.-based Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., aren’t too worried about drumming up the demand to gobble up that extra supply.
“We’re successfully selling bigger crops,” Armock said. “We’re doing a better job at quality, and the last 10 years, we’ve done better on varieties.”
The 2014-15 crop is getting off to a slightly later start than normal, Armock said, about four or five days later than usual. Riveridge kicked off its season with paula reds Aug. 18.
That’s not ideal from a marketing point of view, especially considering what’s on tap this year from a certain apple region to the west.
“We’re a little later, and Washington’s on the early side, so yes, it’s a concern,” he said. “They have the shelf space before we get started.”
On Honeycrisps, for example, Washington kicked off its season in late August, while Michigan isn’t set to begin until about Sept. 10.
On the plus side, the fact that Michigan apples are taking longer to mature because of the cooler summer should be a forecast for outstanding quality, Armock said.
“It gives our fruit a better finish. It’s a two-edged sword.”
Sparta-based Jack Brown Produce Inc. was running about two days behind at the start of harvest, and John Schaefer, the company’s president, agreed with Armock that Washington’s early start was on Michigan shippers’ minds.
For the most part, Schaefer said, most of those thoughts aren’t overly troubling. Many retail customers have no problem waiting a bit for Michigan product.
“Not to say that retailers don’t have Washington on the shelves already, and not to knock Washington, but there’s a bias toward” Michigan shippers in the region, Schaefer said. “Locally grown is a big factor for us.”
That’s one reason Schaefer is optimistic at the beginning of the 2014-15 marketing season.
“I think demand will be pretty good,” he said. “We finished off last year with a bang, and there seems to be a good tone out there in the marketplace.”
Barry Winkel, general manager of Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich., said based on the contact he’d had with buyers through late August, demand for Michigan apples should be strong this season.
“The phone’s been ringing off the wall for apples,” he said. “Everybody wants to be first.”
Damon Glei, partner in Hillsdale, Mich.-based Glei’s Inc., expects a continuation of the strong demand the company enjoyed at the end of the 2013-14 deal.
Even with a plan to hold onto some apples for late-season shipments, Glei’s Inc. was scraping the bottom of the barrel by the time the 2014 harvest rolled around.
“We had pretty good movement this summer,” Glei said.
Top-shelf quality should spur strong demand this season, said Bruce Heeren, partner in Belding, Mich.-based All Fresh GPS.
Bigger fruit won’t hurt, either.
“Everybody likes bigger sizes,” Heeren said. “We’re all really looking forward to this season. I’ve already heard from several customers who are ready to start. I expect good demand at the beginning.”
All Fresh GPS won’t have to worry about carry-over from the 2013-14 crop, either. The company wrapped up storage shipments the week of Aug. 4, Heeren said.
Diane Smith, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Apple Committee, also looked forward to strong demand for Michigan apples in 2014-15.
A huge 2013-14 crop meant that growers could ship longer, keeping Michigan apples on the radar as the 2014 harvests neared.
“One advantage of the big crop last year was that we were in the market into July, which is an advantage. We’re pretty optimistic about this season,” Smith said.