Michigan is expected to exceed its apple harvest this season.
According to the Michigan Apple Committee, apple growers are estimated to harvest 28 million bushels of apples this season, which started in the middle of August and runs through June. That is about 3 million more than the state’s average.
The state averages 25.2 million bushels of apples annually but, last season, harvested just 20 million bushels or 840 million pounds of apples.
“Good (weather) conditions this spring contributed to the crop size this year,” said Ed Robinette, owner of Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery in Grand Rapids. “Usually, the thing that limits the crop is cold temperature during the spring. It will damage the bloom and then it will reduce the crop size. It is almost always weather related.”
Apples are Michigan’s largest and valuable fruit. The Michigan apple industry has a farm gate value of $2.51 million annually, according to the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service. There are more than 11.3 million apple trees covering 35,500 acres on 825 family-run farms in the state, all of which are used for commercial production. The majority of Michigan apples are grown on the west side of the state.
Gordie Moeller is the secretary for Ridge Economic Agricultural Partners, which is a partnership between ridged-area townships, farmers, agribusiness, consumers and Kent MSU Extension. He said the Fruit Ridge, a 10-by-15-mile area between Grand Rapids and Sparta, grows 70 percent (30 million bushels) of the state’s apples.
About 50 percent of apples, according to the Michigan Apple Committee, are picked and eaten. The other 50 percent of apples are processed into applesauce, apple cider, apple juice and apple cider vinegar.
Michigan is the third-largest apple producer in the country, and although Michigan does not export its apples to Mexico, the tariff battle between the U.S., Canada andMexico will indirectly affect Michigan, according to Mark Seetin, director of regulatory and industry affairs at the U.S. Apple Association.
“We don’t know what our customers are going to do yet, particularly Mexico, who is our No. 1 customer,” Seetin said. “Production that typically goes to our export market is largely from the West Coast, and if they don’t find a home, it is going to have an impact on the U.S. Mexico and Canada are our 62 percent of our appleexports.”
Robinette said anything that hurts exports could hurt returns for Michigan growers because that could reduce the price they can get.
Despite the uncertainty in the Michigan apple industry, Robinette said he is confident the tariffs will not impact his farm.
“The (tariffs) will not impact my farm because we are selling directly to our consumers,” he said.
His farm is 120 acres that grows40 varieties of apples. Robinette said about 9,000 bushels of apples are grown every year on his farm.
“In terms of apple orchards, that is small because we are selling them in small quantities of 3- to 6-pound bags,” he said. “Most people are buying just a few, and most apples are going into our cider. It varies by year, but we’ll make 25,000 to 30,000 gallons of cider. It takes about 12 to 13 pounds of apples to make one gallon of cider. A good percentage of our production goes into cider making.”
Along with his farm, Robinette also has a store on-site, where he sells apples, cider, wine anddoughnuts. He said thousands of people visit his orchard on the weekends, and the apple hausis especially busy during September and October. He said the number of people visiting his farm hasincreased over the years because the city of Grand Rapids is growing at a fast pace. There are different activities on his farm like hayrides, a corn maze, jumping pillows, U-Pick apples, wine tasting and walking trails.
Robinette said in the coming weeks, he will be hiring over 100 people through September and October, but then his employee numbers will drop down to about 20 for the rest of the year due to the slower winter months.