There is a lot that fruit growers can do to ensure the success of their crops. But past a certain point, they are totally at the mercy of nature--and this year, nature was merciless. The historic magnitude of this year's apple bust is directly proportional to the historic spikes in temperature in March. The average temperature for the month was 50.7 degrees, 14.2 degrees higher than normal. In a record book that goes back to the 1880s, says state climatologist Jeff Andresen, such an early spring is "unprecedented."
In mid-May, Diane Smith, spokeswoman for the Michigan Apple Committee, said the quasi-governmental organization would not be making any official statement about crop damage until June. But from talking with local growers, it appears that almost the entire crop has been lost. "I haven't heard of anyone else with apples," says Scott Robertello of Kapnick Orchards in Britton, which sells at the Chelsea and Saline markets on Saturdays through the summer and into the fall. In May, Robertello hadn't yet decided about selling at the Wednesday Chelsea market. He explains that the orchard's founders bought the highest land they could find in Lenawee County in the 1950s to reduce vulnerability to frost. Robertello was the only farmer contacted for this article who had any apples--and even he lost 60 to 70 percent of his crop.
Washington politicians are touring the frost-hit orchards, and growers hope that the state will be declared a disaster zone. They also hope that the 2012 farm bill, shepherded by Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow, will include more financial aid for growers of apples and other specialty crops.