U.S.: Michigan kids prefer Jonagold apples
In a season marked by strong movement and positive export growth prospects, the Michigan Apple Committee has found an interesting surprise closer to home.
As part of the program Building Healthier Communities, which is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and involves work with Wayne State University and the University of Michigan, the group visits schools to raise awareness about the wide range of apples available.
"We let the kids taste four different varieties of Michigan apples and they get to go to Mom and Dad and tell them which variety they like best. It gives them a chance to try something other than maybe just a Red Delicious," says committee executive director Diane Smith.
"We did include Honeycrisp in some of them but we don’t include anything that would be considered a club variety," she clarifies.
The initiative is all about boosting apple demand and consumption, running in tangent with retailer initiatives like ads and sales, as well as enlisting chefs to come up with creative recipes and give demonstrations at the point of sale.
"A lot of our chefs have actually inspired or worked on recipes to put out for us for Michigan apples, so they can do everything from an apple salsa - which works great here in the U.S. when Super Bowl time - and once it gets into colder weather we have soups, and in the fall we’ll do different paninis," she says.
"And at back-to-school time we can do different snack tips for kids so incorporating more apples in to your diet no matter what time of day it is. We have a different range of recipes that go beyond dessert, which I guess is what a lot of people think of with apples."
The Michigan industry set new shipment records 11 weeks in a row from Oct. 15 through Christmas, according to a report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Market News Service.
The state's apple industry shipped 30,150 boxes of apples in the week of Oct. 15, followed by more than 300,000 boxes in the following three weeks and then marginally higher year-on-year sales in the weeks thereafter.
"These record numbers come as no surprise after the Michigan Apple industry reported an estimated record crop of 31 million bushels for 2016. Growers, packers and shippers have been working very hard to continue to move the apple crop," Smith said in a release.
"With the adoption of high-density orchard plantings, more trees in the ground and new technology from the orchard, to the packing line, to the retailer, this is a trend that will continue.
"Michigan is poised to increase apple production into the future, and the Michigan Apple Committee is prepared to support that growth through retail programs, consumer education and research funding."
The state has 11.3 million apple trees in commercial production on 35,500 acres, and is the second-largest apple grower in the country.
The fruit is not only sold in 27 U.S. states, but 18 countries.
"Our exports are definitely something that we’re constantly striving to improve and gain some footing in different markets. Our top markets would be Central America - which has always been a great market for Michigan apples and continues to be - and we’re seeing a lot of gains in the Indian market," Smith tells www.freshfruitportal.com.
"That has increased for us over the years and I see that continuing along those lines. We do have quite a bit in Southeast Asia and we’re going to try to build that up a little bit.
"With China being open to all states in the U.S. now we did have a shipment go to China last year, and we did just have some Chinese buyers in to Michigan to visit last fall."
"I think the number is 11 facilities registered in the state that can ship to China. Last year was the first year we had access to be able to ship, so one of our companies did do preliminary shipping to test the market and they were well received.
"We have the protocol in place where we have to have the apples for so long in cold storage, so beginning from the start of the year we can start shipping again. . I would imagine we’ll start seeing shipments to China any time now if they’re not already on their way.
"E-commerce is so huge over there and that’s one area where we’re looking to get a foothold in and I think that could be a good opportunity for us."
Bouncing back, four years after disaster
The Michigan apple sector has been able to find opportunity from crisis, which came in the form of weather conditions in 2012 that Smith says wiped out 97% of the crop.
"What happened was in March we had a major warm-up in the state with 70-80°F weather for about two weeks straight. What it did was it woke the trees up a little to early, so our growers did everything possible to get through the freeze events in April," she says.
"Usually we’re okay because our trees haven’t progressed to the stage of blossoming or anything, but unfortunately at the end of the month in April of that year we had a major freeze event and it was something that couldn’t be helped.
"We lost 97% of our crop that year – it was a true devastation for the state, and the economy because the ag industry here in our state does put a lot of money back into the state as well."
But it was a disaster that sparked significant changes, both on farms and in packhouse infrastructure.
"Moving forward what we saw come out of that was a lot more frost protection applications happening, whether we’re doing research on solid set canopy, applying water to buds and those types of stages to insulate them if there’s a freeze event, and we've also seen a lot of frost protection fans going into low-lying orchards to use aversion to keep warm air coming into the orchard, which is a good tool to be using and we’ve seen more of that across the state.
"It was also an opportunity for all of our packing facilities – they all did major improvements during that time.
"So in 2013 after we came back with a really big crop after the trees had rested for a whole year, we were able to hit the ground running and have major improvements and I think the retailers saw that. Moving forward it’s continued along those lines.
"It was a terrible thing to happen but growers don’t let those things get them down, and they understand that Mother Nature is in charge and we kept moving along."