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A Bunch of Apples

A bunch of apples in storage crates

Landowners with apple orchards in Michigan have seen a plentiful harvest. The crop was so big that it became part of a USDA record surplus purchase of $100 million. Production across the United States was expected to increase 1.5% compared to last year, according to the U.S. Apple Association. But in states like Michigan, the harvest increase was far more substantial.

The past two growing seasons have been bountiful for many apple growers in Michigan with record-setting harvests. Ample apple supply is the norm in the state, which typically produces the third most in the country annually.

“We have all these apples that we’re trying to find a home for.” (Brian Phillips, co-president of Phillips Orchard and Cider Mill in St. Johns, Michigan.)

Typically, Michigan growers -- including Brian Phillips in St. Johns -- contribute to a total annual harvest of 24 million bushels. But last year, producers topped that annual average by 33%. They harvested 32 million bushels of apples for the state in 2022 with final totals expected in 2023 to also far exceed pre-2022 levels.

Phillips serves as co-president of Phillips Orchard and Cider Mill in St. Johns, which has been in his family since 1852.

“All the apples didn’t get harvested in Michigan this year and they didn’t all get harvested last year. And we’re still trying to work out how many apples got left out in the field,” Phillips explained to WILX-TV in Lansing.

The station talked to Phillips a year ago, as well. And Phillips sensed the surplus on the way during this September 2022 interview.

“We have a really great crop of apples coming, much bigger than last season (2021). Last season’s crop was a little smaller than usual. But this year we had great weather all spring. And we’ve gotten some rain in the last few weeks, so it’s going to shape up to be a really great apple crop in Michigan this year,” he said.

During that interview he talked about what had been more typical, where harvest would be strong one year but weaker the next. “Sometimes apples do get into a biannual cycle where they like to have a heavy crop one year and a lighter crop the next. And as apple growers, we try to manage that to balance it out.”

Balancing was especially difficult since 2023 delivered a large harvest, too. That meant a back-to-back year scenario with far more apples than consumers would buy.

The state’s congressional delegation got involved in getting federal assistance for producers.

“Because record-breaking crops and a significant surplus of apples is threatening to destabilize the market for farmers on orchards across Michigan, I urged the USDA to buy the apples they need from Michigan farmers. This will help our Michigan farmers and provide healthy, Michigan-grown apples to food programs across the country. That’s a win-win,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, in a statement.

The USDA agreed to buy $60 million in fresh apples and $40 million in processed apples from farmers’ 2022 and 2023 supplies. That provided additional income for the landowners, avoided the waste and expense of millions of bushels of apples and will also provide nutritious food supplies.

The USDA purchases will go to schools and food banks.

A USDA spokesperson told American Farmland Owner the efforts behind the record purchase:

“This purchase will include up to $100 million of domestic apple and apple products to support the U.S. apple industry and deliver to communities facing food insecurity through USDA’s nutrition assistance programs, including charitable institutions. This is the largest single apple purchase USDA has made to date. Purchases will be made under the authority of Section 32 of the Act of August 24, 1935, with the purpose to encourage the continued domestic consumption of these products by diverting them from the normal channels of trade and commerce. The apples will be purchased through full and open competition, and may be sourced from multiple states, including Michigan.”

RELATED: Find out the history and purpose of Section 32, along with details on how it can benefit farmland owners here.


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