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Michigan Apple Growers Embrace Progressive Business And Technology Practices

Contact: Denise Donohue
(800) 456-2753

(DeWitt, Mich.)–Michigan Apple growers need more than good weather and the Great Lakes to send picture-perfect apples to market, and generate $700-900 million annually to Michigan’s economy. Progressive technology in production techniques and savvy marketing are very important parts of the Michigan Apple industry as well.

This year’s apple harvest is expected to top 26 million bushels, 40 percent above average, and nearly double the 2010 harvest, ” said Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee. “A convergence of beneficial factors contributed to this large crop including excellent May conditions that provided for large “king blooms,” the absence of frost during and after blossom time, rain just when growers have needed it and cooler August nights.” 

Driven in part by consumer preference, over the past five to ten years some growers have been sharpening their apple production skills by devoting more orchard space to premium fresh eating apple varieties such as Fuji, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Braeburn and Gala. High density tree plantings of up to 500 trees per acre are resulting in a larger number of better quality apples for sale, expanding the need to develop markets. Trellising and irrigation contribute to better crops as well, although 70 percent of Michigan’s apples yet remain to be irrigated.

Other efforts to boost production utilized by some growers include technology that mitigates hail and cold weather conditions that can damage the fragile crops. Wind machines similar to giant wind turbines work to draw warmer night air down into the apple trees, relieving frosty conditions. “Growers are working to mitigate the up-and-down conditions of Michigan weather,” Donohue said. “While our climate’s variability makes good-tasting apples it also makes predictable harvest– a necessity for  modern domestic and export marketplaces–more of a challenge.”

Last year’s smaller than average crop gave other industry partners time to retool. Shippers have invested in new packing and storage facilities and old packing lines have been updated. High-tech cameras and sensors take 10 images per second of every apple on a high-tech packing line. Combined with human review, this has greatly increased quality of the fresh product. Retailers continue to ride the tide of the locally grown food movement, letting their customers know where the product comes from.  

On the marketing front, the 2011 groundbreaking partnership between MAC and Pure Michigan will greatly increase exposure for Michigan Apples. Even outside of Michigan consumers recognize the Pure Michigan logo, proving the state’s commitment to travel and tourism is paying off. An additional $10 million has been invested in the program this year.

Pulling technology into its marketing efforts, the Michigan Apple industry has adopted QR codes for its ads and signs and has a new “smartphone” application. The app for iPhone and iPad directs users to locations of farm markets close to them and outlines available products and hours of operation. Unique to Michigan, the Michigan Farm Markets app can be found free of charge in the Apple app store.

Widespread use of QR codes at the point of purchase and on MAC materials has been a step forward in helping educate savvy shoppers with smartphones by linking them directly with apple information. The benefits of QR technology are just beginning to be felt in the food industry. QR codes make information available when the consumer wants it and do not require retailers to put up unwieldy signs

The bottom line of all these business and marketing efforts among MAC supported growers, shippers and retailers is more and better locally grown products that consumers are demanding provided in ways that they want them and in ways they can find them.

MAC is a grower-funded, nonprofit organization devoted to promotion, education and research activities to distinguish the Michigan apple and encourage its consumption in Michigan and around the world.  For more information, visit MichiganApples.com.