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Michigan brings in bumper apple cropMichigan brings in bumper apple crop

For New York, a late-May frost cuts yields by 20% compared to last year.

Jennifer Kiel

October 9, 2023

6 Min Read
Boxes and crates full of red apples stored inside the back of a truck
BANNER CROP: Michigan is expected to produce 32 million bushels of apples, just slightly down from last year’s record of 32.38 million bushels. Photos by Jennifer Kiel

While Michigan is pulling in another bumper apple crop, New York’s yields are expected to be down about 20% from last year’s plentiful harvest, depending on the forecast source.

USDA puts the 2023 New York state crop at 26.19 million bushels, with 42-pound bushels. However, the U.S. Apple Association (USApple), a nonprofit representing the entire apple industry, predicts 28 million bushels, a difference of 7%, but still down 4 million bushels compared to last year.

While not quite as plentiful in Michigan as last year’s record, it is sizing up to challenge that benchmark.

USDA forecasts Michigan’s harvest at 27.4 million bushels, a 15% drop from last year’s harvest of 32.38 million bushels. USApple was more positive for the state, setting its forecast almost 17% higher, at 32 million bushels, which is 24% higher than the 2019-21 annual average.

That’s in sharp contrast to 2012, when 90% of Michigan’s apple crop was lost because of 80-degree days in March followed by some freezing nights in April.

New York challenges

The downtick in New York’s yield is being attributed to a late-May frost. Some orchards, such as one in Cazenovia, reported losing 95% of its apple crop. Other orchards near Lake Ontario, one in the Finger Lakes and one in the Hudson River Valley experienced little to no damage.

USDA notes “a mild winter that weakened the cold-hardiness of the apple crop followed by a very warm spring has caused the expected production to be the lowest since 2012.” Even so, with last year’s bumper crop, the five-year average for New York remains stable.

apples in a grocery store

Across the United States, the 2023-24 apple crop is expected to top 256 million bushels, according USApple, which is also above USDA’s forecast of 250 million. USDA released its report on Aug. 11, and USApple followed a week later at the organization’s annual Outlook Conference in Chicago.

As of the first week of October, New York was about halfway through harvest, which began around the third week of August in the Hudson Valley area, moved up to the central upstate region and then toward the northeast. 

For New York’s 500 growers with orchards spanning more than 50,000 acres, harvest is expected to wrap up the last week of October or possibly into the first week of November. 

“There is a good volume of large-sized apples for tray packs and smaller apples for the  polybag business,” says Cynthia Haskins, president and CEO of New York Apple Association. The nonprofit NYAA in Fishers represents the state’s commercial apple farms, which are family-owned, with many going back as far as six generations. 

“We are hearing that the fresh market is moving well with many retailers with promotable volumes in the stores now,” Haskins adds.

“We have had some warm summer days, and the entry of cooler nights are bringing out the color on the apples,” she says. “Our growers are located closer to most major markets, therefore making it easier for retail partners to focus on reducing their carbon footprint by sourcing New York apples.” 

The NYAA has been coordinating promotions with retailers through cooperative print and digital advertising, digital coupons, sampling programs, free standing displays for additional retail shelf space and geotargeting. 

“We are airing commercials in the state through TV cable and nationwide through an aggressive social media program,” Haskins says.

Abundant fruit quality

Despite a hot and dry spring in Michigan, “there were no widespread spring frost damage events, and July precipitation enhanced fruit sizing,” according to USDA.

Michigan is the third-largest producer of apples behind Washington and New York.

About 75% of Michigan’s commercial apple crop is grown on the west side of the state in an area along the lakeshore north of Grand Rapids, known as the Fruit Ridge. Many apples are also grown to the north of the Fruit Ridge and all the way up into northwest Michigan, as well as areas in southwest and southeast Michigan.

Travis Bratschi, GreenStone vice president of agribusiness lending out of Traverse City and an apple and tart cherry grower in Williamsburg, says Michigan’s season is shaping up nicely, and growers are optimistic. “Fruit quality is exceptional … some of the best quality I’ve seen since I’ve been a grower, and customers are agreeing,” he says.

Washington is the country’s No. 1 producer of apples, accounting for almost two-thirds of U.S. production. According to USDA, Washington is forecast to produce 160 million bushels, a 9.1% increase from 2022-23, but 2% lower than the five-year average. It’s a much-improved forecast from last season’s production of 146.19 million bushels, which came after a cold spring and snow that affected pollination during bloom.

“In Michigan, there is some concern with pricing on the fresh side, because Washington has a big crop and that always has an impact on pricing,” Bratschi says.

On the processing side, prices are down from past years. This year’s large crop and many of last year’s “less than stellar” packout of fresh apples going to processing has created more inventory, according to Bratschi. “The processing market is pretty full, which will be reflected in pricing,” he says. “There will be apples in Michigan that don’t get harvested because there is no home for them.”

Finding new and expanding markets is one of the top focuses of the Michigan Apple Committee, a check-off program representing the state’s growers.

“One important trend is hard cider, which continues to boost the Michigan Apple industry,” says Diane Smith, MAC executive director. “There are so many great ciders for people to try.”

Another trend includes the release of new apple varieties. “We get asked a lot about new varieties and managed varieties, but there are challenges that go with that,” she says. “Stores don’t have enough room for all of them, and too many varieties can sometimes confuse consumers.”

Labor challenges

U.S. apple growers are concerned with increasing costs in all areas of production. Most recently, regulatory changes to agricultural labor have put an increased burden on growers, Smith says. Most growers utilize the H-2A program to hire farmworkers.

“Nationally, the Adverse Effect Wage Rate in H-2A ranges from $13.67 to $17.51,” she says. “In apple country, that range is $14.91 to $17.51, and nearly 90% of apples are grown in states where the AEWR is between $16.55 and $18.65.”

Even growers who do not use H-2A will be impacted, she adds, because to stay competitive in the employment and retention of workers, non-H-2A growers will also have to increase wage rates.

In Michigan, more than 14.9 million apple trees are in commercial production, covering 34,500 acres on 775 family-run farms.

Apples are grown in all 50 states and with more than 2,500 varieties nationwide.

“We are blessed to have another good apple crop,” Bratschi says. “It’s good for growers, consumers and Michigan, as an apple-producing state.”

Top 10 apple varieties

Though Red Delicious remains the second most-produced apple, its production has declined steeply over five years. Red Delicious decreased by 42%, or 23 million bushels, compared to 2018-19 production volumes. Conversely, Honeycrisp production has increased by 46%, or almost 9 million bushels, during the same period, according to USApple.

With other varieties making up about 10% of the overall crop, the following are the top 10 varieties for this season and their percentage of the overall crop:

  1. Gala, 18.1%

  2. Red Delicious, 12.5%

  3. Honeycrisp, 11.1%

  4. Fuji, 10.1%

  5. Granny Smith, 9.9%

  6. Golden Delicious, 6.3%

  7. Pink Lady/Cripps Pink, 4.9%

  8. Cosmic Crisp, 3.8%

  9. Rome, 2.8%

  10. McIntosh, 2.1%

Sources: USApple, USDA, California Apple Commission and the Washington State Tree Fruit Association

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About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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