Some Michigan apple farmers expect to make far less money this season after a springtime frost damaged a portion of their crop. Apple analysts expect an estimated 20.3 million bushel crop, down 28 percent from a robust 28 million bushels in 2016 and down 4 million bushels or about 17 percent from an average year, according to the Michigan Apple Committee.
But it’s almost a blessing for some as they struggle to find enough workers amid a longstanding migrant labor shortage. The lack of migrant fruit pickers is worsened, other Michigan farmers argue, by a perceived backlash against those who hire foreign workers.
The decline in production is not expected to have much of an impact on the varieties available this fall, said Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee.
Smith said she does not anticipate the under-average crop will make it harder to find cider. But it is difficult to say this early in the season whether prices of apples and apple products will increase because costs fluctuate by the time apples land on the shelves, she said.
Mike Beck, who oversees the Uncle John’s cider mill orchard near St. John outside Lansing, doesn’t think customers will see much of a difference on sticker prices on store shelves. He considers himself almost lucky to have a light crop this year because he is so short on workers.