Jun 25, 2015
Guesstimate shows winter’s impact on crops

Coming off back-to-back winters that challenged fruit growers in Michigan, industry leaders gathered June 24 set the stage for what to expect from the 2015 crop.

“We’ve experienced two harsh winters in a row and we’re also continuing to experience change, challenges and industry consolidation,” said Andy Janson, a St. Joseph-Michigan fruit packer and president of the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association (MFFPA).

Janson kicked off the 60th Annual Fruit Crop Guesstimate, sponsored by MFFPA, in Grand Rapids.

“Obviously a lot of variables are happening right now at this late stage,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can under the circumstances.”

The impact of below average winter temperatures and untimely spring freeze events was reflected across the 2015 crop projections offered by representatives of the blueberry, apple, sweet and tart cherry sectors.

Apples

The 2015 estimate for Michigan was established at 22.5 million bushels, down from the 27-million estimate in 2014. West-central Michigan, the biggest contributor to the state’s apple crop, will yield 16.5 million bushels this year; followed by southwest Michigan (2.9 million); northwest Michigan (600,000); and eastern Michigan (140,000), according to projections.

Dave Smeltzer of Per-Clin Orchards, said he is seeing a crop potential patterned after 2007-08 in the northwest region, after similar freeze events this year.

“How do you predict a crop when it looks like Christmas ornaments, limb to limb, tree to tree?” Smeltzer asked.

“Before the frost-freeze events of Feb. 28-29, we had a real good apple set coming,” Smeltzer said. “We had real good bud set with potential for a good crop. Low temperatures ranged from 24˚ F in East Leland, Suttons Bay area, to 26˚ F to 28˚ F in Manistee County, to 28˚ F in Antrim and Grand Traverse counties. The McIntosh bloom evaporated right before us hour-by-hour and it coincided with bloom.”

Smeltzer said growers in the region are predicting anywhere from 50 percent to 65 percent of last year’s crop, which at full average potential, is known to rise as high as 4.5 million bushels of apples.

“The challenges presented to us in the northwest isn’t just in frost,” he said. “It’s the collateral effect frost will have on the surface of the fruit. We’re starting to see the scars.”

Michigan State University Extension educator Amy Irish-Brown said the west-central region’s winter was colder than the year previous, but “a majority of the apple varieties came through OK.”

She said a slow spring start should still produce a normal harvest date.

“The biggest challenge was the four days of poor weather right when bloom started, May 7-10, when we had some very wet conditions,” she said. “It was warm, which is frightening for fire blight, and there were pollination and fertilization concerns coming into bloom time.”

She said a slightly lower crop from last year’s 20.5 million bushels a year ago in the region could occur, “but there is a big unknown due to the number of new trees planted.”

Production is on track to match last year’s production numbers on most varieties, Irish-Brown said.

Eric Rockafellow of Burnette Foods said 2015 should bring “a pretty decent crop” in southwest Michigan, “despite some pollination issues in some areas.”

Cherries

In 2015, the U.S. tart cherry industry will produce about 230.5 million pounds, according to projections shared at the event. The 2014 estimate was set at 271 million pounds.

Michigan production should be approximately 146 million pounds in 2015, including 86 million in the northwest; 22 million in west central; and 27.5 million in the southwest.

Don Gregory of Cherry Bay Orchards said the northwest’s six-county region’s previous big crop was in 2009 – averaging about 105 pounds a tree. Last year’s average was approximately 75 pounds per tree.

He said that prior to a May 20 freeze event, “many growers felt the northwest could produce a bumper crop, which in the northwest could be up to 200 million pounds or 110 to 115 pound of cherries per tree.”

“We had a perfect inversion frost night, followed by three more days of poor pollinating weather,” Gregory said.

“Bottom line, we came up with 86 million pounds for the northwest – about 47 pounds a tree, or 41 percent of what would be a bumper crop,” he said. “It could be worse. Things are coming together and if we all work hard we could end up with a good crop ultimately to get out to the consumer. Our biggest challenge is marketing the crop we have before us.”

Todd Fox of N.J. Fox & Sons said the west-central region’s “crop is poor. During the winter our region had the second year of significant cold temperatures. Many evenings were in the negative teens. The trees survived, and there was some optimism. Pre-bloom frost events April 24-25 followed. We had a week of bloom that started May 5-9 that was followed significant cold temperatures and significant rains, leading to a poor, spotty crop.

“Until May 20, we still had a big number in our mind,” Fox said. “The potential in the region the past 14 years has been over 48 million pounds average.”

Glenn Rogers of Honee Bear Canning Co. expects southwest Michigan to have “a very nice crop. We escaped the bullet, staying at 30˚ F, 31˚ F, 32˚ F, or above. We had a beautiful pollination period, and, in general, set a very nice crop. There is some variability in terms of maturity and I’m not sure why that is.”

Projections for other tart cherry producing states included: Pennsylvania, 3.5 million pounds; New York, 10 million; Utah, 35 million; Wisconsin, 9 million; Washington state, 25 million; and Oregon, 1.5 million.

Phil Korsen of the Cherry Marketing Institute said projections for Ontario, Canada are set at 7 million pounds, about half of that region’s average crop size.

Michigan sweet cherry producers were severely crimped by winter’s impact, as well as a devastating late May freeze.

They are predicting a 2015 crop at roughly 25 percent of last year’s total, according to Mark Doherty of Peterson Farms.

The 2015 estimate is for 7,500 tons – approximately 15 million pounds.

Michigan produced 29,900 tons (59.8 million pounds) of sweet cherries in 2014.

“It’s the good, the bad and the not so attractive is what we’re talking about for 2015 Michigan sweet cherry production,” Doherty said.

“We came through the winter very optimistic and came through the bloom period nicely, but a lot of winter damage continued to manifest itself from March through May. We had a long period of cold temperatures and on May 20 we were at 24˚ F to 28˚ F. Those cherries developing on the tree were smaller than a pea, they were frozen, damaged, dead, ugly. It’s not what we wanted to see happen.”

Blueberries

Michigan is expected to remain among the nation’s top blueberry production states with projections for an 85-million pounds yield in 2015, according to Creela Hamlin, president of the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee (MBBAC).

A total of 46 million pounds of fresh product is expected in 2015, similar to the 44 million pounds anticipated in 2014. The 39 million pounds of processed berries expected for 2015 is close to the 38 million pounds of processed estimated in 2014.

“I describe it as the good, the bad and the ugly,” Hamlin said of the 2015 outlook. “This year, we again suffered winter damage in blueberries to varying degrees. There’s a lot of growth, so we’re looking forward to more fruit next year. Many varieties and areas have a wonderful crop of blueberries this year. There’s a lot of good out there. We’re getting excited for our harvest to begin soon.”

According to early 2015 estimates, in highbush production in the Midwest, Northeast and Southern District, Michigan ranks ahead of Georgia (78 million pounds – 96 million last year); New Jersey (55-60 million); North Carolina (55 million); Florida (25 million); Mississippi (3 million); and Indiana (2.25 million).

Early 2015 estimates of highbush production from states in the Western District announced at the Guesstimate include: Washington state (110 million pounds); Oregon (95 million); and California (55 million). British Columbia, Canada anticipates harvesting 162 million pounds of berries in 2015, according to early estimates announced at the Guesstimate.

Gary Pullano





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