Farmers expecting record high for state’s apple crops

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HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) — This year’s apple crop looks to be a big one, according to several local farmers.

“It’s probably our biggest in history,” Rob Crane, of Crane Orchards in Fennville, told the Holland Sentinel.

The statewide crop estimate, released late last month at a national gathering of apple growers in Chicago, expects Michigan farmers to harvest approximately 31 million bushels of apples this fall. That figure would be a record for the state and 7 million more bushels than Michigan produced last year.

Reports from local apple growers reflected the statewide trend: Favorable weather, denser planting and good farming are adding up to a huge and healthy crop.

“The apple crop is very good this year,” Roger Umlor, of Centennial Fruits near Sparta, said, “both quantity- and quality-wise.”

Michigan’s expected 30 percent increase in its apple production to roughly 1.3 billion pounds is in large part due to technological advancement and denser planting of apple trees, according to Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee. But 2016’s spring and summer weather has helped, too.

“Growers are indicating that the crop is plentiful and looks beautiful, as well,” Smith said.

Two of those farmers are Crane and Umlor.

Crane Orchards, located on 124th Avenue two miles west of Fennville’s downtown, grows 17 varieties of apples. Picking of the big apple — the variety that kicks off the orchard’s busy season, honey crisp — begins on Wednesday, Sept. 14, but the harvest of other popular apples, such as McIntosh and Gala is already underway.

The warm summer lends itself to a good crop, though the early months were dry at Umlor’s orchards.

“Just like everyone else, we pumped a lot of water,” Umlor said.

But a dry July gave way to a historically wet August, boding well for the apples’ flavor.

While the rain was generally a boon for apple growers, it also creates some challenges. Consistently wet weather makes the crop susceptible to various diseases. Crane referred to it as a “pressure of dampness.”

“It’s all controllable,” Crane said. “You just have to be paying attention.”

Denser plantings and good weather aside, Crane said it takes years of work to produce quality apples, comparing the trade to raising children. Apple trees, like kids, need consistent care to turn out well.

“It’s not what you do in any one year,” Crane said.

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