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Michigan apple crop should be strong overall

After a May 8-9 frost damaged apple buds in certain Michigan production areas, opinions are varied on the outlook of the state’s 2017 fresh apple crop.Riveridge-1

“In my opinion, some areas are quite good. And some areas are not so good. At the end of the day we will have about 75 percent of the volume we had last year. Maybe it will be 80 percent,” Scott Swindeman said of Michigan’s 2017 fresh apple crop. “The reason it’s as high as it is this year is that some areas got through the frost and, also, there is new bearing surface” that has matured in the last year.

Swindeman, the vice president of All Fresh GPS LLC, said, “I think there will be more apples in Michigan than is being reported.”

He said a late June estimate was that Michigan fresh apple production would be two-thirds of the huge 30 million-bushel crop of 2016. He noted that he believes it was 30 million bushels “but opinions vary. We had a good year last year.”

Swindeman said that the crops of 2015 and 2016 were “extremely early” harvests. “The crop this year is more normal. It’s safe to say they will be close to three weeks later this year than the last two years. We’re not late. It’s just that we had two early years.”

In Michigan, the earliest Sweet Tango, Gala and McIntosh will be harvested this summer in the last week of August.

“We are down from the record crop last year, which was a super year,” said Ken Korson, the apple category manager of North Bay Produce Inc. “We had an early frost that took our crop down considerably. We’re at 75 to 80 percent. It’s not devastation but we’ve just backed off. The biggest variety hurt is Red Delicious, which is not a huge loss.” All Michigan growers produce “too many Red Delicious.”

Honeycrisp and Gala, which are of a much greater commercial value “came through the best.” Korson said frost losses from these two varieties may mean finishing shipping six weeks earlier than usual in 2018.

The frost was in pockets. Some areas are worse than others. “One farm may have 100 percent and the farm next to it might have 50 percent of a full crop.”

The Ridge, which produces the majority of Michigan’s fresh apples, fared a little better, which is why the crop is not down more. The northern part of the state pretty much will have a full crop. Southern Michigan growers may be off 20 to 30 percent.

Korson said all of Michigan’s apple packers are now equipped with machinery to grade internal and external damage. This grading capability will leave only high-quality fruit for fresh consumers.

Korson said North Bay’s production is mostly in the Ridge area. Those North Bay farms near its Traverse City, MI, headquarters are farther north, so the frost damage wasn’t so harmful to younger blooms there in early May.

Korson noted that last year in Michigan, Red Delicious finished as the top-volume variety. But because of the May 2017 frost, Gala should surpass Red Delicious this year.

Don Armock, the owner of Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., based in Sparta, MI, said it is difficult to know what impact the Michigan frost will have on this year’s crop.

He said the damage was “location and variety-specific. The real significance will be in packout.” A lower packout would, of course “limit the fresh pack.” But as for the varied opinions on crop damage, “I don’t know who’s right and who isn’t.”

He said the real impact of the frost will reveal itself in late spring or early summer 2018, when the Michigan storage apple crop finishes. “There will be no impact this fall or winter. The question is: When will we finish? That is the only thing [different about this crop] that anyone will notice.”

The national apple marketing scene

Armock expects the coming national apple marketing situation “will be somewhat similar to the 2016 crop, because there has been a reduction in product in Eastern growing areas. Michigan has had frost. There was hail damage in Appalachia and New York and New England. I think it will be somewhat the same as it was last year.”

A factor that should boost U.S. apple exports this year is a decline in apple production in Western Europe, due to an April frost there. “As a result, there should be considerably more business for those who go to Europe and the Middle East,” Armock said.

Because of “a rattling of swords” between the U.S. and its trading partners in Canada and Mexico in recent months, Armock is concerned that U.S. apple exports to the neighbors could suffer. He said, for example, that there are disputes with Canada over lumber and grain trade. Thus, emerging grudges may spill to hurt U.S. apple exports. “With Mexico, I think the same sort of thing could happen.”