The 2012 Apple Bust
Disaster hits the Farmers Market
While city-dwellers luxuriated in March's record-high temperatures, fruit growers at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market started to fear the worst for their crops. And unfortunately for many, the worst happened.
"We lost everything," said Bruce Upston, interviewed in mid-May as he and his wife, Jan, packed up after selling the last of their 2011 apple crop at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market . "I've been doing this for forty years, and I've never seen anything like it."
At the Upstons' fifty-five-acre Wasem Fruit Farm in Milan, record high temperatures in March caused fruit trees to blossom two weeks early. The nascent fruits were damaged by frosts throughout April, but it was a hard freeze at the end of the month, Bruce says, that cost the couple their entire 2012 tree-fruit crop: "Apples, peaches, pears, plums-everything."
Bruce says they've had setbacks before, and they plan to be resourceful and keep a positive attitude. Their raspberries, red and black currants, and gooseberries still look promising. Jan always harvests pussy willows to sell along with her homemade doughnuts and jam-and now she'll just bring more. "And we'll be bringing some new things," Bruce says. "Pumpkins, Indian corn, lots of other things we never have time to raise."
Like many farmers, the Upstons have insurance, but that covers only part of the income lost from their failed crops-not their overhead costs. So the couple will still have to do all the thousands of hours of pruning and other maintenance on their farm through the summer, but without earning income from it.
Scott Robertello, of Kapnick Orchards in Britton, estimates that he lost about 50 percent of his apples-a significant setback, but not as bad as the 80 or 90 percent losses reported around the state. "The southern tier of Michigan had better crops, but as far as why I didn't lose as many apples as my neighbors here, and hardly any of my peaches, well, there's no rhyme or reason to it, really. The fruit
business is fascinating, and when you have a bad year, you have to just try to be philosophical and think over the long term."
Old-timers like Agnes Nemeth of Nemeth Orchards in York Township say they've learned to focus on their blessings and try to ignore things they can't control. "It's Mother Nature, and she does what she wants!" Nemeth exclaims. "And when you get to my age, you just take things as they come. We've been through pretty tough times, and we always come through it. You can't lose sleep over it."
Nemeth says she and her husband, Alex, own fifty acres of apple orchard, and "the apples are pretty well wiped out." But, she adds quickly, "the grapes look pretty good!" When asked if this is the worst disaster she's seen on their eighty-acre farm, she says, "No. One year we had hail completely flatten an entire field of corn. And we were the only farm that got hit."
After this spring's disaster, Robertello says, one thing is certain: "The price of apples will go up." Growers say to expect to see fewer varieties at the market this fall, as well as fewer apples overall.
This article has been edited since it appeared in the June 2012 Ann Arbor Observer. Descriptions of Wasem Fruit Farms' selling schedule and staffing have been corrected.
[Originally published in June, 2012.]