Apple growers in Michigan are assessing damage caused by a weekend storm that blew through the state’s biggest production area and knocked apples to the ground and damaged trees.

The storm, which brought with it high winds and rain, blew through the Sparta and Kent City area, just North of Grand Rapids, Aug. 9, and took 800,000 bushels of apples with it, according to the Michigan Apple Committee.

“For some people it had quite an impact,” said Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., Sparta. “We lost a lot of trees, and they were important trees, galas and honeycrisps, but no one’s going to know the difference except the growers.”

Denise Donohue, executive director of the DeWitt-based committee, said 65% of the state’s apples are grown in the region they call Fruit Ridge, but that the damage was confined to an area a few miles wide.

“I don’t want to downplay this,” Donohue said. “There are areas that are seriously damaged, growers scrambling around trying to get ready to harvest.”

Michigan is gearing up for a bumper crop year at up to 27 million bushels of apples, and Armock said the damage, which was most severe within a radius of four miles, will be negligible when considering the overall Michigan crop.

“We’ll really notice it the next 5-6 years when those trees are out of production,” he said.

The Michigan Apple Committee estimated 5% to 8% of the crop was lost due to the storms, a number that Armock said was undocumented.

“The worst I have heard from individual growers is that some have lost 20% of their crops, said Donohue said. “I’ve heard that from four to five individuals.”

Tom Pletcher, vice president of sales and marketing for Belleharvest Sales Inc., Belding, said one of the company’s larger growers and one of its packing houses in the area took a hit.

“But not a real disastrous level,” Pletcher said. “It’s not going to thin the crop out more than 10%.”

Joe Klein Sr., owner of Royal J. Klein Farms, Sparta, told West Michigan Business that there was damage in 90% of his 200 acres. Klein also said gala and honeycrisp were hit the worst because of the brittleness of those trees.

“For some other people, they lost some of all their varieties,” Armock said.

Donohue said a similar storm in 1998 brought 90 mph wind gusts, compared with 60 mph with this storm.

“The wind was substantially higher in ’98, but there were fewer apples on the trees,” Donohue said. “This year the trees are loaded with apples.”

The positive side of the storm was that it brought much needed rain to the area. While there are a lot of apples on the trees, they needed some rain to help them get some size. Growers have been continuously hand thinning trees to let the best apples grow.

“Unfortunately, we’d like to be the ones to pick which ones got knocked off,” Armock said.

Armock said he attended an apple industry meeting Aug. 12 with other growers who had lost apples and trees.

“We agreed it’s tough, but we’ll pull through,” Armock said.

The state averages 19 million bushels of apples, Donohue said, and came up short last year with less than 14 million due to hail damage across the state.

This year has been virtually hail-free.

“When it all comes off, we’ve got a great crop, one of the largest,” Armock said.

Donohue said the commission notified government officials in the state and has the ball rolling on getting some sort of assistance for growers who suffered damage.

Storm destroys 800,000 bushels of Michigan apples
Courtesy Michigan Apple Committee

Apple trees were knocked over by 60 mph wind gusts in a storm that rolled through Michigan's Fruit Ridge, the region that produces 65% of the state's apples, Aug. 9.