Aug 8, 2016Michigan Fruit Crop Guesstimate reveals optimistic numbers
When industry representatives gathered June 22 for the 61st annual Fruit Crop Guesstimate, they came with mostly optimistic outlooks regarding the 2016 crop.
Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the setting for the event, which provided an opportunity to hear expectations for the peach, blueberry, sweet cherry, apple and tart cherry sectors.
Sponsored by the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association, the Guesstimate was held prior to a severe July 8 hailstorm that struck northwest Michigan. Growers reported seeing damage to tart cherries, sweet cherries, apples and wine grapes. They were still assessing the scope of the damage, which could have a detrimental impact on Michigan’s production numbers.
Michigan’s 2016 Fruit Crop Guesstimate for apples was 26.3 million bushels, up from the 2015 estimate of 22.5 million bushels.
The estimates included 19.4 million bushels in west- central Michigan, 3.6 million bushels in the northwest, 2.3 million bushels in the southwest and 893,000 bushels in the eastern region.
The Michigan Processing Apple Growers Marketing Committee met June 21, and estimated the apple crop to be 26 million bushels.
“Michigan has an excellent crop potential this year,” the committee reported. “Weather conditions were excellent, which created a good cell division and a king bloom crop. Quality and size is outstanding to date; extra bearing surface will also factor into the crop size. Crop maturity is reported to be three to five days ahead of normal. Overall, growers are extremely optimistic about the 2016 apple crop.”
Dave Smeltzer of West Wind Orchards said bloom in northwest Michigan was May 16-21 on many varieties, nearly two weeks earlier than a year ago.
“Self thinning essentially happened with a lot of fruit,” he said. “We used the carbohydrate model and chart to determine how to anticipate crop load. A lot of fruit started to show early. We had very good thinning results with some variability in the Honeycrisp crop.”
He said there is a 120 percent increase in the Gala crop over the past several years.
“There’s been overall a significant increase in plantings, although we’re not keeping up with Grand Rapids with high- density plantings. It does represent that it is starting to take place in overall numbers, with growers going away from traditional varieties to managed varieties on more high-density plantings.
“Overall, it appears to have been about a 12 percent to 16 percent greater bloom than a year ago,” Smeltzer said.
Smeltzer said reports from eastern Michigan indicated a long and sustained bloom period that left growers thinning “very aggressively.”
In the west-central region, Leo Steffens of Peterson Farms anticipated “a nice clean crop coming after a full, early bloom this season. They were thinning hard and aggressively. In general, several varieties are increasing, including new varieties. It should be a pretty good crop when we’re looking at the numbers.”
In southwest Michigan, Holly Rogers Rios of Core Farms reported an outlook for a “pretty good crop, down 5 to 15 percent. Some fruit didn’t set as well. During pollination it was foggy and raining, with some hail in April that impacted some acres.
“Everybody talked about an erratic crop dependent on the variety,” she said. “People went to chemical thinning a little early.”
In Washington state, growers assessed the 2016 crop could reach 135 million boxes fresh, which would be a 17 percent increase over 2015.
New York’s Premier Apple Cooperative made its own 2016 apple estimate on June 27. The group of growers, packer/shippers and marketers estimated the U.S. crop at 263.3 million bushels. If that estimate is realized, it would be the fourth-largest apple crop ever.
In 2016, the U.S. tart cherry industry will produce an estimated 351.3 million pounds, 253 million pounds of that coming from Michigan. Other major producing states are estimated as follows (million pounds): Utah, 50; Washington state, 27; Wisconsin, 11; New York, 7; Oregon, 3; Pennsylvania, 0.3.
The Michigan crop could be significantly impacted from the July 8 hailstorm in the northwest, although it was anticipated much of the damaged fruit might be salvageable for use in juice products.
“Overall, we’re looking at a fairly large crop,” said Don Gregory of Cherry Bay Orchards. “We had a beautiful bloom with a great spring in northern Michigan. Tart cherries should do quite well.
“With 2.1 million trees in northern Michigan, our guess is 165 million pounds,” he said. “By working together to put a lot of new products on the market the last few years – that is ultimately what is going to lead this industry going forward.”
In west-central Michigan, Todd Fox of N.J. Fox & Sons reported the first bloom in Oceana County’s eastern region was May 3, following “beautiful bloom weather, great pollination. Near the lakeshore, with cooler temperatures, bloom was 12 days later.”
“Looking at the tree numbers and 10-year average of about 46 million pounds, we came up with an estimate of 68 million pounds this year.”
Pinnacle Foods’ Mark Wilson said there are 3,850 acres of tart cherries in production in southwest Michigan. The first bloom was April 22 in Berrien County, reaching full bloom rapidly.
“We had great pollination weather,” Wilson said. “It’s not a heavy crop at this point. In early June there was a significant amount of drop. Variability in orchards this year is drastic, leading to our 20-million-pound estimate.”
Tom Facer of Farm Fresh First said Pennsylvania “had a huge crop last year. Very poor return bloom with significant cold weather was seen this year. With 300,000 pounds anticipated in Pennsylvania this year, the big question is how many people are even going to harvest after 629 million pounds last year.”
He said the two growing regions in New York state – Niagara Falls/Wayne County and Rochester/ Syracuse – were affected by cold weather.
“The Wayne County region had two days of minus 15 and 20, while Niagara was five below zero. Wayne County lost all of its peaches. We thought we had a good tart cherry crop. The bloom looked good. Obviously, they got hurt (by the cold) and fell off. Wayne County had a poor tart cherry crop. Niagara has a fairly decent crop. We should have a 7 million-pound crop in New York.”
Jim Seaquist of Seaquist Orchards said 2016 should be a better year for Wisconsin, but “trees continue to have effects from the last two years” of harsh winters. “We came through the spring with no frost damage, beautiful bloom, pollination was perfect. Spring was cool with a lot of rain. It’s been real tough after dealing with a couple of cold winters. The last five years, old trees have struggled to have a good crop. We’re estimating 11 million pounds for 2016.”
Other estimates: Utah, 50 million pounds; Washington state, 27 million pounds; Oregon, 3 million pounds.
Al Steimel of Leelanau Fruit said the Michigan sweet cherry estimate was 54 million pounds, up from 24.4 million pounds in 2015 and representing 90 percent of the 2014 crop of 59.8 million pounds.
Of the 2016 sweet cherry total, 1.5 million pounds is estimated to be fresh; 3 million canned; 16.5 million frozen; and 33 million brined.
“There’s been variation over the last several years in the amount of fruit harvested,” Steimel said. “It’s been up and down, with 2014 being the largest in a long time. Last year, we were way down from that. This year, we’ll be closer to 2014 but not as large – about 90 percent of the 2014 crop.
“We had a wonderful bloom on cherries that lasted a long time,” he said. “We expect a fairly decent crop.”
Michigan is projecting 101 million pounds (53 million fresh, 48 million processed) of blueberries in 2016. Early estimates showed Georgia anticipates 85 million pounds; New Jersey, 45 million pounds; Florida, 25 million pounds; and Indiana, 25 million pounds.
Creela Hamlin, president of the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee, said a few spring storms swept through some production areas but left no major damage that would impact the crop.
“We took into account the many new plantings in the state,” Hamlin said. “In all varieties, production is increasing. With the start this year, pollination was great with a very heavy and prolonged bloom. In the end, our fruit set was very favorable.”
— Gary Pullano, associate editor