Here’s why Michigan orchards are leaving apples on trees

ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — People in Michigan may notice more apples left on trees this year. That’s because orchards say it does not make economic sense to harvest all the fruit.

Schweitzer Orchards, located near Sparta, left rows of apples on its trees.

Operations Manager Nick Schweitzer said they try to harvest as much as possible, but because of this year’s strong supply coupled with higher labor costs, it makes more financial sense not to harvest every piece of fruit.

“Anything that was below a certain size, we had to leave on the tree, because there probably wasn’t a market for it,” Schweitzer said. “And so, we don’t want to incur those costs to have to try and store it or dump it later on.”

  • here’s why michigan orchards are leaving apples on trees

    Apples remain on the trees at Schweitzer Orchards in Alpine Township on Nov. 29, 2023.

  • here’s why michigan orchards are leaving apples on trees

    Apples remain on the trees at Schweitzer Orchards in Alpine Township on Nov. 29, 2023.

  • here’s why michigan orchards are leaving apples on trees

    Apples remain on the trees at Schweitzer Orchards in Alpine Township on Nov. 29, 2023.

  • here’s why michigan orchards are leaving apples on trees

    Apples remain on the trees at Schweitzer Orchards in Alpine Township on Nov. 29, 2023.

  • here’s why michigan orchards are leaving apples on trees

    Apples remain on the trees at Schweitzer Orchards in Alpine Township on Nov. 29, 2023.

  • here’s why michigan orchards are leaving apples on trees

    Apples remain on the trees at Schweitzer Orchards in Alpine Township on Nov. 29, 2023.

  • here’s why michigan orchards are leaving apples on trees

    Apples remain on the trees at Schweitzer Orchards in Alpine Township on Nov. 29, 2023.

A strong crop means there are plenty of apples in storage this year. With a limited amount of space, the most profitable get priority.

“This year, there was a really good crop overall throughout Michigan,” Schweitzer said. “And we had to be very picky in terms of what we were actually picking off the trees because there is certain specs that we have to meet for customers like grocers, size requirements, color requirements, quality.”

The orchard said in addition to the economic challenges of harvesting these apples, the cold weather is a challenge.

“When you get temperatures that drop into the mid-20s, then you have that frost-thaw period. With fruit, it ruptures the cells within the apple, and it really makes for a poor eating experience. So, we couldn’t harvest them for fresh,” Schweitzer said. “And there’s no market really for extra processing this year, so it’s not worth harvesting anything that’s still out on the trees.”

USDA to purchase $100M in Michigan apples

Katie Vargas, with Joe Rasch Orchards in Alpine Township, Michigan, is a board member with USApple.

She said for the first time, her family farm near Sparta did not harvest 10% to 15% of its crop. The biggest factor is labor costs, which have gone up about 40% over the past five years, she said.

“Part of that is a wage that is set by the Department of Labor. This year, it was $17.34,” Vargas said. “And so, on the other end of that, we also don’t set our prices for our product.”

As for the apples still on the tree, they will serve a purpose.

“The fruit will start to decay and eventually drop off the tree around the root zone. And that will decay and those nutrients will remain in the ground,” Vargas said.

According to Michigan State University, apples are the largest fruit crop in Michigan, with over 900 million pounds produced each year. It is the third-largest apple-producing state, surpassed only by Washington and New York, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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