Michigan apple farmers see largest crop yield in several years

Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 6:20 PM EDT
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BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. (WNDU) - Apple picking season is coming to a close in southwest Michigan with farmers bringing in their biggest yields in the past several years.

This year’s apple crop in Michigan is expected to be twice as big as it was last year. This is welcome news for growers, but it’s also left some in need of workers and storage so they can maximize the fruits of their labor.

After all, the Michigan apple crop is expected to pass more than 30 million bushels this year after hovering around 15 million bushels the past three seasons. These low expectations mean growers have some catching up to do to make sure nothing goes to waste.

16 News Now went to one of the places where they’re sorting through these apples to tell us more about how growers are sorting through these issues.

“You got to make sure you have enough boxes, enough laborers to get the apples picked, enough cold storage space and a place to move them really,” said Mark Schilling, co-owner of both Schilling Family Farms and Klug Farms.

Schilling said they’re fortunate that the past few days have been cooler, which helps them pick up the pace.

“It’s very labor intensive,” Schilling explained. “The workers can be more productive as they work. It also helps the apples. An apple picked cold will store longer.”

Schilling said he’s had to repurpose boxes used for tomatoes and watermelons to keep up with the amount of apples they’re bringing in.

Hildebrand Fruit Farms normally helps out other growers in need of extra boxes too, but this year they say they’re in need of 800 to 1,000 more bins.

“We have what we have and we were not able to lend other growers the bins that we own,” said Mike Hildebrand, owner of Hildebrand Fruit Farms. “As we’ve run promos and ads with our grocery stores, we’ve been able to have an incredible fall sale season. As we empty the bins we get to reuse them again and again and again.”

Hildebrand said he’s working with roughly 75 percent of the crew they had last year. While he still expects to get everything off the trees, it is taking about a week little longer.

He also said these past few days in the 40′s and 50′s mean the apples will transition well into these climate-controlled storage units.

“Between the cold and lack of oxygen, the apples can’t breathe and they can’t ripen so they stay crisp right off the tree,” Hildebrand said. “We plan on packing until April this year.”

While Hildebrand said they’ll likely be picking into next week, Schilling says they expect to be finished by Thursday.

Michigan apple growers are actually filling a huge need right now too after poor spring weather hurt the crop out of Washington State. They’re filling in the gaps left by those producers with the big supply coming out of the Midwest.