Michigan apples hit all-time high

By a wonderfully large lead, Michigan is enjoying a record-breaking fresh apple harvest in 2022.

Don Armock, President of Riveridge Produce Marketing, Inc., Sparta, MI, announced on November 23 that his company has surpassed its all-time production record by 20-25%. Riveridge packs more than half of Michigan’s fresh apple crop. The company has a presence in all but one of Michigan’s apple-growing regions.

In August, the Michigan Apple Committee announced a crop estimate of a whopping 29.5 million bushels. That’s 10 million bushels more than the 2021 season. Apple growers in Michigan produced 15.6 million bushels last year, according to the USDA. Informal estimates now put the volume for 2022-23 at around 34-38 million bushels!

Armock said this banner season is particularly good news as it follows three consecutive disappointing apple harvests in Michigan. One of the reasons why the 2022 harvest was so good was that the trees had not been stressed by large harvests for a long time. It was a heavy bloom and fruit set. This year, apple trees in Michigan were nearing maturity, with fruit ripening on the trees within three to five days. In some years, this time span can vary by two weeks.

“It’s a very, very big harvest. The challenge was getting enough bins and storage space,” he said. The few producers who had production problems rented their tanks. Riveridge also had new storage containers made out of wood. Almost all freshly harvested apples went straight to either conventional cold storage or controlled atmosphere storage. After the traditional storage areas were filled, the aisles between the rooms, which were also refrigerated, were stacked to the brim with more apple crates.

By mid-November, almost all of the fruit that was stored in the standard refrigeration system had already been dispatched.

With short harvests and short shipping times in recent years, Riveridge has seen its national markets decline. He was pleased that old customers were there to buy the new crop. He anticipates shipping by the time the 2023 crop comes off the trees.

Riveridge’s apple marketing position is stronger due to a short harvest in the Pacific Northwest. “We plan to fill these gaps. It really is an ideal situation for us.”

For the past 20 years, and particularly the past decade, Armock’s orchard management strategy has been designed to be crop friendly, “and increase our ability to significantly increase bushels per acre.” With an ideal growing season, this highly efficient plan paid off in huge measure.

These orchard designs will continue to stand out in the future, he added.

Another strategic move for Riveridge was to grow apple varieties and cultivars that appealed to buyers and consumers. Galas and Fujis are key varieties for Riveridge. An industry that has focused on expensive, proprietary strains has tended to confuse consumers.

Due to lack of storage and bins, some second or third harvest apples and some lower value fruit remained on the trees. Armock is unsure what percentage of the fruit went unharvested.

Armock was glad to have had enough labor for the harvest.

While he calls this an ideal growing season, if there was one disappointment, it was an average packout percentage. But even discounting culling, the volume is record-breaking.

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