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Strategic plan a bright spot in Michigan's apple barrel

Representatives of Michigan's apple industry are deep in the strategic planning process for the coming five years. Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said the organization's board and industry representatives began discussion of the five-year plan this past July. The most recent talks took place Dec. 5 at the 10th Annual Michigan Apple Growers Luncheon at the 2012 Great Lakes EXPO in Grand Rapids, MI.

"We went through this process five years ago and have really used the strategic plan as a guide to make decisions and focus our efforts,"MI-StrategicPlanningDiane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, discussed the organization's five-year strategic plan at the 10th Annual Michigan Apple Growers Luncheon in Grand Rapids, MI on Dec. 5. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Apple Committee) she told The Produce News Dec. 12. "So not only were we looking at how to market a large 2013 crop, but we were also planning for how we will market the Michigan apple crops in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017."

Looking at all uses, Ms. Smith said more than 9.2 million apple trees produce fruit on 850 family-owned commercial farms in the Wolverine State. Approximately 36,500 acres are planted to apple orchards.

"About 40 percent of Michigan's apple crop is sold to the fresh market," Ms. Smith stated.

This past spring, Michigan's apple industry sustained devastating crop losses attributed to unseasonal cold weather. "It's hard to look at what happened in 2012 and say that we were fortunate. But in terms of tree damage, we really were," Ms. Smith commented. "While the April frosts caused a 90 percent crop loss for 2012, the reports we have received indicate that the trees were unharmed and will be well-rested for 2013. We have already had growers who are out pruning tell us they are seeing a lot of buds — a promising report!"

According to Ms. Smith, one component of the strategic plan looks at new apple varieties that have marketplace and consumer appeal. "I think Honeycrisp continues to be an extremely popular variety," she said. "I think you'll see a lot of focus on Jonagold and Fuji in the near future as well."

Although the issue of apple variety-specific frost susceptibility is not one under consideration, Ms. Smith said, "We have been talking with researchers on other ways we can avoid or prevent a crop loss like this year's due to frost, such as delaying bloom. And, of course, we think frost protection equipment is a sound investment for growers."

Despite the situation in 2012, Ms. Smith said the state's apple growers are taking the high road. "Our growers are excited and looking forward to the 2013 crop," she commented. "I truly believe Michigan is going to be the 'Comeback Kid' in 2013, with a large crop of apples as well as some fresh marketing ideas and renewed focus. Our dedicated board and staff are working hard already in preparation for the 2013 season in support of our growers."