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Posted: 10/03/12

A HEAVY LOSS. Above, the nearly-barren shelves at Miller's Big Red Apple Orchard are a common sight at other local orchards. The Michigan Apple Committee reports the state lost an average of 90 percent of its apple crop this year, with some local orchards seeing a 100 percent loss due to a late winter and spring frosts.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

Local orchards see 75-
100 percent apple loss

Orchards still providing
crops to service customers

Observer Staff Writer
      Local orchards are feeling the sting of a major drop in their apple crops, but are bearing the storm to make it through the season.
       According to the Michigan Apple Committee, the state's 2012 season experienced an overall loss of 90 percent due to a late winter and damaging spring frosts.
       Orchards in the local area have reported losses between 75 to 100 percent of their apple crops this year, causing them to scale back on operations and pursue other avenues of revenue.
       Roger Ross, owner of Stony Creek Orchard and Cider Mill, said he lost 100 percent of his crop, forcing him to stop any u-pick options for the first time.
       "We had nothing here, there wasn't an apple I could salvage," he said. "It was that last frost on April 29."
       He said he purchased apples from other orchards in the state to supplement his supplies and make it through the season with apples and cider production.
       "I had to buy juice apples, I've never had to buy juice apples," he said.
       Miller's Big Red Apple Orchard is experiencing the same troubles. Bobby Reckling, market manager, said they saw a 100 percent loss and have brought in apples from Grand Rapids at twice the normal price to have a supply.
       "Hopefully we can sell 'em," Reckling said.
       He said their vegetables made it through well, and the orchard is still offering u-pick pumpkins despite not offering it for apples.
       "We have a good tomato crop, vegetables did good," Reckling said.
       Abby Jacobson, co-owner of Westview Orchards, said a 90 percent loss made the orchard cease apple u-pick for customers this year.
       "We're lucky because some orchards don't have any apples at all," she said. "I never thought I would call myself lucky with 10 percent."
       The orchard has devised other ways of providing customers with activities and produce, such as new straw mazes or receiving the same package deal for picking pumpkins normally found with apple picking.
       "People have come out and have purchased our fruits and vegetables, and we're very grateful," Jacobson said.
       Despite the loss, there has been little impact on cider production. Like Stony Creek, Westview has purchased apples for cider production.
       A lighter loss
       Paul Blake, co-owner of Blakes' Orchards, said despite a loss of 75 percent they will still manage to offer u-pick into October.
       "We grow so many acres that we have enough," Blake said. "There were a few more apples out there than we thought."
       Blake said they bought apples from other orchards for cider, though he added the price of apples are three times the amount from last year.
       "We weathered the conditions pretty well, I don't think there's any permanent damage to the apple trees," he said.
       Blake said the lighter apple crop inspired them to double their pumpkin production, claiming the orchard has 100,000 pumpkins.
       At Verellen's Orchard, u-pick isn't normally offered to customers for apples, but the orchard is still trying to deal with a 80 to 85 percent loss. Owner Bill Verellen said they have a good supply of some varieties but have bought others to fill in the gaps.
       "Prices are up, and most people haven't complained, they understand," he said. "We've been fairly busy."
       He said one of the difficulties this year will be storing the apples they did grow, as the storage facility they use will not be running this year.
       However, he believes next year will bring a more bountiful crop since the trees didn't produce as much as they normally would this year.
       "Hopefully we'll have a better year next year as long as we don't have an early spring," he said. "The trees seemed to come out of it good."
       Some are still trying to assess the damage. Tom Bowerman of Bowerman's Orchard said they are currently picking apples, but he estimates a loss of 90 percent.
       "It ain't going to be easy," he said. "We've still got November and December to go through."
       Like others, he said he may have to purchase apples to produce cider, but said vegetables came through the season well.
       "We're trying to figure out what we're going to do," he said.

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