Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 12, 2013

Strong recovery for fruit

District horticulturist MSU Extension Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center Coordinator

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — With the apple and winegrape harvest behind us, we take a moment to look to the future and ponder what 2014 might bring for agriculture in the Grand Traverse region.

First, we are coming off a good year for cherries and apples, and the vintages of our area’s 2013 wines appear to be off to a good start. With the crop loss of 2012, any fruit on our trees this year would have been a positive sign. However, both the tart and sweet cherry crops were of exceptional quality, partially due to a crop size that was neither too big nor too small, but also because of the cool temperatures during harvest. Growers did an excellent job of thinning apples this year, and despite the lack of rain this summer, apples sized well and developed nice color with the cool temperatures in early September. We hope to see this positive trend continue as we head into the next growing season.

In tree fruits, we can see a boom and bust kind of cycle. For instance, trees without fruit one year will store up energy and overproduce the following season. Growers employ good management strategies to break this cycle, and given the adequate crop load in most orchards this year, we can expect 2014 to bring a nicely-sized crop as well. So, if the weather cooperates, we predict trees will neither over- nor under-produce next season, and we will have a manageable tree fruit crop size for 2014. Of course, the key to my prediction is if the weather cooperates.

We are also looking to our marketers to do a bang up job this year and to continue to recapture markets in 2014. This important piece of the food chain is particularly critical for the next few years as marketers try to recapture pieces of the ‘pie’ that were lost to other countries or regions of the U.S. when Michigan lost its crop last year. For instance, tart cherry marketers had made great inroads into new markets with their promotion and health benefits research strategy; however, with the crop loss in 2012, some of the standing contracts were filled with cherries imported from Poland. We know our marketers will continue to do terrific job, but it will take more than just one season to put Michigan apples and cherries back into previous markets and products.

In the annual crop arena, growers are blessed with a little more flexibility in planting different varieties or crops to please consumer trends, and if 2013 is any indication what our local smaller scale annual farmers can produce, we are in for a colorful and bountiful 2014.

At local farmers’ markets across the region, growers were pedaling carrots available in shades of yellow, red, and purple. Potatoes, tomatoes, and even kale were offered up in a dizzying array of textures, colors, and shapes.

With the increased emphasis on buying local and restaurants seeking out regional farmers, we think that 2014 is poised to be even more stunning. Seed catalogs are already enticing us with ‘Harvest Moon’ watermelons, ‘Tennessee Britches’ tomatoes, and ‘African Devil’ hot peppers. We cannot wait!

As we look forward, let’s hope for a cold winter with lots of snow that eases into a gradual warm up next spring. And when the snow finally melts and the growing season kicks off in 2014, may the rains be gentle and adequate, the sunshine be plentiful, and frosts be nonexistent.