By DAN WHEAT
A year ago, New York and Michigan apple growers were reeling from spring freezes that caused their worst crop devastation in decades.
Things look a whole lot better so far this season, with potentially record-large crops, but frosts could still occur for another month.
Last year, early March warmth pushed bud development and then late March and April freezes killed the buds by the millions.
In the fall, New York harvested about half of a normal 30 million boxes of fresh and processing apples. Michigan suffered a nearly 90 percent loss, harvesting 3 million boxes instead of its normal 22 million.
Washington state, with a record-shattering 129.4-million-box fresh crop and additional 26 million boxes going to processing -- a 155.4 million total -- moved into Midwest and East Coast markets to fill market demand normally met by New York and Michigan apples.
So far this year, New York is poised for its largest crop on record with "a textbook perfect season and enormous bud development" caused by last year's freezes, said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple and Cherry Growers Association in Fishers, N.Y.
"Bloom potential is record-breaking" as there's been no frost damage, he said.
With "massive" plantings over the last five years now coming into production, the 29.5-million-box five-year average is probably low, Allen said.
Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee in Lansing, would not speculate on crop size but said weather has been normal after 22 frost-freeze events last April. Trees are still dormant and frost damage can occur into late May, she said.
Last August, the committee issued a news release quoting Michigan State University Extension educator Amy Irish-Brown about the potential for a large crop the year after a freeze because nutrients that would have gone into fruit development go into the following year's buds.
While bud development is 10 days late due to cool weather, this year's crop should be greater than normal, perhaps 30 million boxes not just from the freeze but new plantings in recent years, Irish-Brown now says.
Growers, packers and shippers, seeing value, have invested heavily in recent years in expanding newer, high-density plantings, more wind machines for frost protection and new storage and packing equipment, Smith said.
Crops should increase in two to three years, and some people believe it will reach 30 million to 40 million boxes, she said.
In strategic planning last summer the industry agreed to ramp up exports of fresh apples, she said.
Washington state apples have long dominated domestic and export sales.
The 58th annual Fruit Crop Guesstimate, sponsored by the Michigan Frozen Food Packers Association, will be held June 19 in Grand Rapids. It's the first estimate of apple and other fruit crop sizes.
The Michigan Apple Committee had to make budget cuts after the 2012 crop loss but now has hired two account managers to facilitate 2013 sales. One is Terry Braithwaite, East Wenatchee, Wash., who was formerly marketing director of Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan, Wash.