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Locally grown demand helps distinguish Michigan as 'Great Lakes Apple of Choice'

Contact: Holly Whetstone
(800) 456-2753

(DeWitt, Mich.) – With nearly 1,000 apple growers, many of whom are fourth- and fifth-generation farmers, throughout the Lower Peninsula, Michigan has a long history of producing and supplying a wide selection of high quality apples for consumption worldwide.  In fact, the Great Lakes State is the third-largest apple producer in the nation, behind only Washington and New York.

Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said Michigan is ready to supply apples grown close to home, and has the distinct advantage of being located within 500 miles of half of the nation’s population.

“Geographically, Michigan being in the heart of the Midwest is the logical apple of choice in the Great Lakes region,” she said.  “We’re able to supply apples to many parts of the nation in a very timely, cost-efficient manner.”

As consumers become more aware of issues like carbon footprint and food miles, Donohue said she expects Michigan apple growers to benefit in the long run.  However, in the short run, the industry is bracing for a challenging year, with a crop estimated to be down about 30 percent overall.

“Despite a smaller-sized crop this year, there is certainly a sense that this industry is headed in a very positive direction,” said Donohue.  “We’ve seen our shippers investing in the future, with state-of-the-art equipment and our growers investing in everything from trickle irrigation systems and wind machines to trellises and high-density plantings.”

Apple grower Ed Wittenbach of Belding, who has experienced many ups and downs in his 45 years in the industry, said it is important to continue to learn and embrace change in order to be successful.

“The fruit industry keeps you humble because there’s a new challenge every day,” he said.  “You have to be willing to change or you won’t be able to carry success into future generations.”

While the state’s apple production is heavily concentrated off the shores of Lake Michigan, an area known as the Fruit Belt – just north of Grand Rapids – is renowned for its rolling hills, fertile soil and outstanding apple production. 

Joe Klein Sr.’s family has been growing apples in the heart of Michigan’s apple country since 1940. 

“The Kleins are much like many growers in the state – their business is deeply rooted in family heritage and they genuinely have a love for the land and desire to preserve a time-honored tradition,” said Donohue. 

Small family farms dominate the Michigan apple industry, with about 65 percent of orchards under 200 acres.  Newer orchards are trending toward high-density plantings, which means upwards of 500 trees per acre.  These well-trained plantings come into production more rapidly than the full-canopied apple trees of old, so growers can bring desirable new varieties to market more quickly.

“We have the quality and commitment from our growers to continue to move in a positive, environmentally friendly direction that gains the favor of Midwest consumers and distinguishes Michigan as the ‘Great Lakes Apple of Choice,’” said Donohue.

The Michigan Apple Committee is a grower-funded, nonprofit organization devoted to market development, education and research activities to distinguish the Michigan apple and encourage its consumption by consumers in Michigan and around the world.