After experiencing one of their largest crops ever last year, Michigan apple growers were headed toward another exceptionally large crop this season — until unseasonably high temperatures in April followed by temperatures in the mid-20s in May put a damper on things.
As a result, this year’s crop should be 75% of normal, said Denise Donohue, executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Apple Committee.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official estimate was 14.5 million bushels, but Michigan growers say the figure could be more than that because of warm weather and exceptional growing conditions since USDA made its estimate, Donohue said.
The cold nights in May affected June drop and fruit set, but during July and August, virtually every day was in the 80s.
“That doesn’t happen in Michigan every year,” Donohue said.
The season has been running about two weeks ahead of normal since June.
Meanwhile, rainfall has been plentiful and growers expect good-sized apples this year.
Frost damage in the spring was scattered throughout the state and varied by location, variety, stage of bloom when the low temperatures hit and other factors, she said.
Normally, Michigan’s apple growers ship 19.3 million bushels annually, according to a five-year average compiled by USDA. Last year’s crop was a near-record 28.6 million bushels.
“We got off to a very early start,” said Pat Chase, sales and field representative for Jack Brown Produce Inc., Sparta, Mich.
This summer, with plenty of warm weather, is the opposite of last year, when weather was on the cool side, he said.
“Luckily, we’ve had a lot of moisture to go along with it,” he said.
Chase characterized early prices as decent.
On Aug. 23, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b.s of $16-18 for cartons of 12 3-pound bags of U.S. extra fancy grade ginger gold and paula red apples from Michigan.
Glei’s Inc., Hillsdale, Mich., started the season with the lodi variety, which wrapped up in early August, and the firm started picking paula reds the first week of August, said Damon Glei, secretary-treasurer and part owner. Picking usually starts around Aug. 12.
Quality looks “pretty fair,” he said, though some varieties suffered frost damage. Sizing also was very good.
The crop at Glei’s Inc. should be 70% to 80% of last year’s.
Michigan Fresh Marketing LLC, Belding, started picking paula reds the second week of August, somewhat earlier than usual because of the warm weather, said president Tom Curtis.
Volume will be about 70% of last year’s crop because of cool spring weather, he said, but the size of the fruit will be larger since there are fewer apples on the trees.
The company was hand-thinning some varieties to ensure larger sizing. Peak season should start about 10 days earlier than usual and run from Sept. 15 through early October.
Lake Michigan Growers Marketing LLC, Greenville, Mich., expected to start shipping mcintosh and gala apples right after Labor Day, said owner Roger Anthony.
The company kicked off the season with ginger golds and a short paula red crop in mid-August, which is about the usual start date.
Southwest Michigan, where the company’s apples are grown, did not experience the earlier start this year that the Grand Rapids area did, Anthony said.
Like other growers, the firm should have smaller volume than usual this year but larger-sized fruit and good quality, he said.
Some of the crop did experience frost damage, but there was plenty of heat this summer and timely rains, he said.
“It’s been pretty good for my guys,” Anthony said.
Harvesting at Jack Brown Produce got under way Aug. 13, Chase said. The company considers itself fortunate because most of its local growers have a decent crop.
“It’s better than some other areas around the state,” he said.
The firm expects its crop to be about 80% of average, he said. Jack Brown Produce should have a lot of young plants bearing galas, jonagolds, fujis and Honeycrisps this year.
Retailers look forward to the new crop because it means new varieties will be available, Glei said. The only varieties the firm had left this summer were red delicious and gala.
Now, they’ve got paula reds, mcintosh and Honeycrisps, he said, “things that they haven’t been able to get for a while.”