Michigan Produce in Peril

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You certainly felt the oppressive heat, and you’ve probably noticed your water bill take a spike these last couple of months, but have you been paying attention to your produce lately?

If not, you’d better sit down because when it comes to Michigan produce, we’re in for some pretty tough times. And the worst may be yet to come.

The first wave of this Tsunami hit earlier this month. Michigan’s Sweet Corn crop, and now its world-famous Blueberry harvest, have been largely compromised due to crop damage. Supplies are limited.

But a bigger wave is not too far off shore, and you’ll want to be on high ground when THIS one hits.  Michigan’s apple crop is in serious trouble.

How bad is it? What can you expect?

I sat down with Nino’s very own expert produce buyer and a co-owner of Nino’s St. Clair Shore’s location, Mike Santoro, to get some of the answers. Mike has over 30 years experience buying produce in Detroit. He and his son, Joe, are buying produce each morning at the Detroit Produce Terminal before most of us have even hit the snooze button. They’ve just about seen it all.

Is this the worst local produce disaster they have ever seen?

Here’s what they had to say:

“This has been one of the most challenging crop years I have ever seen and certainly the worst for Michigan apples in all my years of buying. Growers are telling me that they estimate they have lost 90% of their entire crop!” said Mike Santoro.

“When we had that early warm spell this year, the trees went into bloom, and then a hard frost destroyed them. No blooms, no apples. Once that happens, there is nothing you can do except wait until next year. The damage was done.” He continued…

Were other Michigan crops affected by this same early warm weather and late frost?

“Yes, other tree fruits like cherries had similar issues but none to the extent of our apple crop.”
“Even worse, Michigan’s apple cider production will be severely limited with very few, if any, Michigan apples to make into juice. What may be available will be very, very expensive, and the quality may not be what we’ve seen in past years.”

What about the recent hot weather and the drought we hear so much about?

“Well, that’s caused a whole different issue for non-tree crops like corn and blueberries. Corn needs a lot of water, and blueberries need cooler weather, especially cooler evenings. Unfortunately, we’ve had little of either.”

Is there any good news?

“Yes, actually on a couple of fronts. While prices may increase, we do expect to maintain adequate supplies of Michigan sweet corn throughout the late summer and early fall. Other “soft” fleshed crops like zucchini can be replanted throughout the growing season, giving them and us a renewed opportunity for another harvest. Watermelons, believe it or not, love the heat, and as long as they and similar crops (like pumpkins) have been given enough irrigation, they should come through this rather well too.”

Will this disastrous growing season affect next year’s crops?

“Yes and no. In the case of apples, it will all depend on the weather once again. Actually, the trees will want to produce even MORE fruit next year, which isn’t good for the trees. Farmers have ways to deal with this though, so as long as the weather is good, we have every chance of being back to normal next year.”

And the farmers?

“That’s what I’m worried about. Smaller farmers have fewer resources, both land and money, to survive the loss of nearly their entire crop. If they go under, next year may see fewer farmers growing these products. And that affects supply and demand as well.”

Any advice for Nino’s customers?

“We first want to let all of our Nino’s customers know that we’re proud of our decades-long relationships with our local farmers. When you look at it from a personal level, we’re both family businesses. Our business success is built, in part, on their crop successes, so they have always been part of our extended family.”

“Yes, the lack of supply will affect the prices of some of Michigan’s produce to be sure, but we also have many alternative resources to keep our customers supplied with all of their favorite items.”

“People sometimes ask how we manage to get through these challenging situations. It’s simple. It’s our personal commitment to quality, value, great selection and great service.”

“And that’s the way we do it!”

Have you noticed a difference in your produce? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.