The size and shape of the upcoming U.S. fruit crop was up for discussion at the 59th Annual Fruit Crop Guesstimate held June 25 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In Michigan, apple growers are looking at a big crop, but not as big as last year, with some growers coming in well short after the harsh winter of 2014. It killed many trees, hurt some varieties more than others, and contributed to a weak fruit set in some areas after a large bloom.
Nationally, fruit production is highly variable by region. Production of sweet cherries, tart cherries, and blueberries will be down from last year in Michigan. But overall the national crops will be as large or larger.
In sweet cherries, for example, national production was forecast at 326,240 tons, down 2 percent from 2013. Production in the Pacific Northwest is expected to reach 20 million packed boxes, well up from 14.2 million last year. That forecast was made by the National Agricultural Statistics Service on June 26. Production in California was down 63 percent to 30,000 tons, the smallest crop since 1998, NASS said. Michigan’s production of 30,000 tons is about normal but down from 34,500 tons last year.
“The warm and dry winter in California reduced chilling hours and combined with poor pollination to result in minimal set and record-low yields,” NASS said. “Many growers reported crop failures and chose not to harvest.”
The annual fruit crop Guesstimate is organized by the 14 members of the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association.
Apple growers in the west central part of Michigan, where about three-fourths of the state’s apples are grown, may enjoy their second big crop in a row, according to Mark Zemaitis from processor Peterson Farms.
He estimated the crop in the Grand Rapids-Belding-Hart area at 20.6 million bushels, the same as last year. The total Michigan crop was guesstimated at 27.7 million bushels. Last year, a guesstimate of about that number underestimated the crop size. The industry believes production topped 32 million bushels. A final production figure for 2013 hasn’t been agreed upon, as NASS was “out of business” in apple crop reporting last year because of the sequester of funds for the survey.
The size of the 2014 crop in southwestern Michigan was estimated at about 2 million bushels, down 60 percent from last year. The Eastern Michigan estimate was for 936 ,000 bushels, down 12 percent, and for northwest Michigan, 3.2 million, down 3 percent.
Dave Smeltzer from Per-Clin Orchards in northwest Michigan described last winter as “harsh and diffcult,” followed by a late spring with no frost. For the first time in decades, all of the Great Lakes were frozen shore to shore. “You haven’t seen ice like this before,” he said. But the protective effect of open water disappeared in mid-February when “there was no more lake.” Temperatures fell below -25˚F.
Stress affected trees differently by sites, variety, and tree age. Golden Delicious and Jonagold set very small crops. Deep snow cut food supplies to deer, but they could now reach higher in the apple trees to browse. Smeltzer reported trees with no crop at mid-level, crop in the tops, and crop low down where branches were covered by snow all winter.
The late spring has set the crop back about two weeks. Smeltzer said some growers will be thinning apples into July.
Zemaitis reported “lots of rodent and deer damage” in west central Michigan, but little winter injury to trees.
Utah continues to emerge as a larger factor in tart cherry production. In 2012, when Michigan lost its entire crop, Utah became the largest production state. Last year, Michigan’s dominance resumed as the national crop rebounded.
This year, Michigan is expected to produce 191 million pounds out of a total national crop of 271 million, which will be down about 20 million pounds from last year.
Utah’s production will jump to 35 million pounds from 27 million last year. Washington state’s production was pegged at 24 million pounds, up from 17.9 million last year. Oregon will contribute 2 million pounds, about half of last year.
In Wisconsin, the consequences of its production area being on the opposite side of Lake Michigan from Traverse City, Michigan, cut the crop size from 12.2 million pounds last year to 9.5 million this year, according to Jim Seaquist, the largest producer on the Door Peninsula.
“We were colder than all of you,” he said. “We have a lot of dead fruit trees, in tart cherries and in apples.” Temperatures fell to -25˚F several times and stayed at -15 to -20 for long periods, he said.
Crops in New York and Pennsylvania were trimmed by spring frosts. New York production was guesstimated by grower Tom Facer at 8.5 million, down from 11.8 million last year, and 1 million in Pennsylvania, down from 2.2 million. Facer said there will be little to process in Pennsylvania, where direct farm markets will move most of the sparse crop.
Blueberries across the eastern United States were hurt by the low winter temperatures that killed shoots, but growth of production in the West will keep the U.S. crop about the same level of around 800 million pounds.
Last year, Michigan produced 114 million pounds and will be down to 82 million this year, according Joe Leduc, a grower-processor and member of the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee. The committee met and generated the production numbers.
Nationally, production is nearly evenly split between East and West. “The East will be down about 40 million pounds and the West up about 50 million,” he said, after the East’s “brutal winter.”
The crop splits about 55/45 on fresh/processed berries, with growers choosing the more profitable fresh side whenever possible. In the East, fewer blueberries will mean more will be sold fresh and less processed.