Any fall weekend, Uncle John’s Cider Mill is bustling with thousands of people hungry for fresh apples. This year, there’s plenty of produce to pick.
"We have a normal crop here," says Michael Beck of Uncle John’s.
In Southwest Michigan, bins are filling up quickly. Bryan Bixby says the size is good considering how dry it’s been, but the taste is even better.
"I would say it's a vintage year," he says. "The flavors in these apples were wonderful. The sugar levels are very high. The flavors are great. The texture is unbelievable."
This is quite a change from 2012 when Mother Nature didn’t hand Michigan apple producers any favors. A late spring freeze zapped buds, devastating 90 percent of the state’s apple crop. Bixby says the trees had so much energy left from last year from not producing fruit, it’s attributing to the good flavor.
That’s a relief for both growers, considering the financial hit they took in 2012.
In 2012, Uncle John’s didn’t harvest a single apple. In the five generations that family has been on these Michigan soils, they say that’s never happened.
"Luckily we are fifth generation growers, and we know a lot of growers," --- says. "There was still about two million bushels of fruit to be harvested last year. It was very expensive, but we went and got other Michigan fruit."
The recovery process, however, won’t be easy.
"It’ll probably take us anywhere form 5 to 10 years could be even longer, it's just hard to tell because you never make up for it," says Bixby.
The Michigan Apple Committee projects this year could be the state’s largest apple crop ever. They say in turn, it could pump $900 into the state’s economy.
Bixby says he’ll harvest about 80 percent of normal, and that’s okay considering the surplus expected.
"Statewide we're about 30 million bushel is what the estimate was, and that's a large crop for this state to sell," he says.
With such a large crop, labor is a concern for some growers. There were few apples to harvest last year, many workers found jobs elsewhere.
"There haven’t been enough hands all summer to harvest, not just for the fruit, but also for the vegetables, says Bixby.
He says he’s been fortunate enough to have a core group of workers who stay year-round. Other apple growers, however, are still searching for workers, concerned some of this valuable fruit could be left having without enough hands to pick it all.