Statewide apple crop loss creates profitable situation for local farmers

A warmer-than-normal March followed by some below freezing nights will impact the number of apples available at many orchards across the state this year. But what's a bad outlook for downstate could be a profitable situation for northern Michigan farmers.

State officials estimate that about 90% of Michigan's apple crop is lost, but for northern Michigan the crop yield is not as bleak. If fact, local farmers are preparing for a busy year with their apples in very high demand.

In March fruit tree buds blossomed more than month early and those pre-mature blossoms ended up dying after temperatures later dipped. And while the one-two punch completely devastated downstate apple farms, northern Michigan apples escaped with far less damage.

Friske Farms Owner Richard Friske says, "They had a couple of extremely cold nights.. significantly cooler than we did at a very crucial time when their buds were very tender." Francis Otto from Cherry Bay Orchards adds, "They got blacken and dropped right off, where as ours were just a little more hardy at that stage, so we were able to survive."

Cherry Bay Orchards in Suttons Bay has 272 acres of apple trees, of that 60% of the crop made it thru the harsh weather. It's a similar story in Charlevoix County, Friske Farms only lost 10% of its crop.

And this means these local farmers have some high demand goods on their hands, that large fruit processors and downstate farmers will pay top dollar for.

Richard Friske says, "One of the few gauges we have to go by is the association that negotiates for processed apple prices, and those prices are about two times what we've ever seen.."

Otto says, "A 20 bushel box, we got about $600 dollars a bin last year, now were talking about $200 dollars more."

The increased demand also has Cherry Bay Orchard farmers doing something they haven't done in more than 10 years -- collecting dropped apples from the ground, to be used for juice.

These farmers say after a devastating Tart Cherry Crop this year, these strong apple yields feel like a gift from mother nature. Cherry Bay Orchards lost 97% of its cherries this year and Friske Orchard lost its entire cherry crop.