Growers pay dearly for an early spring
by Barry Lonik
The effects of our unseasonably warm March weather are readily apparent this fall. Apples are very scarce at local farmers' markets, and cider mills are importing fruit from other parts of the state--or beyond.
Most years, Michigan is one of the nation's top apple producers, harvesting an average of twenty million bushels a year. Last year's bumper crop was upwards of twenty-six million. But the mild March brought apples and other fruit trees into premature bloom--only to be blasted by April frosts. The Michigan Apple Commission estimates orchardists will bring in just three million bushels this fall.
Locally, some growers were completely wiped out. The message on the answering machine for the Lutz Orchard near Saline states they have no apples but are selling honey by appointment. Amy Lesser of Lesser Farms in Dexter Township reports that they have "no fruit of any kind."
Alex Nemeth's farm south of Ypsilanti will have no apples for sale at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, though they're expecting "a good crop of grapes." Bruce Upston from Wasem Fruit Farm near Milan was similarly affected but will have baked goods, jams, pumpkins, and squash to sell at the Ann Arbor market. "We hope to have cider, but so far none of the growers we've contacted are committing to selling," he says. Upston thinks their family farm can withstand this year's crop loss--the worst since the 1940s--but "a second year like this would be devastating."
Kapnick Orchards in Britton seems to have fared the best of the local growers, but even it will have only 25-50 percent of its typical crop. "We'll have apples and cider but probably only until Thanksgiving," says Sharon Shaffer. They froze a lot more early-season fruits like strawberries and blackberries, which they'll sell along with jams at their Ann Arbor stall.
And there's good news for one of the area's top autumn destinations. "We've been operating continuously for 127 years; we're not going to quit now," says Dexter Cider Mill cider-maker Richard Koziski. He often buys local apples for variety and to support nearby farmers, but since there are none this year, Koziski has been working with his orchardist in Kent County's fruit ridge, where April's frosts were less severe, to increase supply from there. In mid-month, he expected to open on August 24.
"We're fortunate to have a symbiotic relationship," Koziski says of his West Michigan connection. "We've helped them some years, and this year they're helping us."
[Originally published in September, 2012.]