2013 is a record apple crop for Michigan growers, but migrant labor is hard to find

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2012 was a disaster for Michigan apple growers, but 2013 has been a good year. From Capital Press:

Michigan apple industry set new shipment records two weeks in a row in October — with the second and highest week being 414,702 boxes the week ending Oct. 12.

Michigan and New York are experiencing bumper crops following severely reduced crops in 2012 from spring freezes.

“Our growers, packers and shippers are working seven days a week, day and night, to move this crop,” said Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee in Lansing.

One of the limiting factors in the apple harvest is the availability of seasonal workers to pick the crop. Last year was a bad year and some migrants resettled to other states. From MLive:

Market demand also will play a role in determining how many apples are left in the fields or sent to packers and processors, said Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee that represents some 850 family-owned orchards.

Smith estimates the apple harvest workforce is short about 20 percent. Labor has been the industry’s top concern for many years, since it’s tough to find an adequate skilled workforce, she said, adding that immigration policies that allow migrant workers to go back and forth between the U.S. and their home countries would help.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle notes the impact in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula:

Some affected growers, particularly in the Grand Rapids area, are prioritizing and picking only varieties that have the best financial return, said Jim Bardenhagen, an area fruit and vegetable farmer and retired 20-year Leelanau County extension director.

Bardenhagen said several area farmers told him that only about half of migrant workers needed to pick apples in the region came to northwestern lower Michigan this year and that many are new to the work. He personally lost only one worker in his crew of three. Area crews generally can vary from about five to 30.

This would be a good year to look for orchards that are doing a gleaner’s harvest to donate to local food banks.

Image credit: Apples by Roger Yepsen, available on Amazon.

In this small and elegant book, artist/writer Roger Yepsen presents fascinating facts about more than 200 varieties of apples growing in the United States. With beautiful and distinctive watercolors, he makes identification a snap. He also reveals how each variety tastes and which varieties are best for eating and cooking.

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