GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With fall nearly upon us, Michigan apple orchards are kicking off the apple picking season.
“It’s something we’ve been waiting for all year,” said Ed Robinette, the co-owner of Robinette’s Apple Haus and Winery. “We’ve become part of fall. Fall is what we do. And we’re excited that it’s here and excited to have people back.”
The wait is worth it. After a down year in 2021, Robinette’s is celebrating a great crop thanks to Mother Nature bringing better luck this time around.
“Quality looks really good,” Robinette said. “Size should be very good. Flavor should be great. The trees were well-rested and we didn’t have a freeze this spring. We had plenty of water. We were watering during some of the dry spells.”
Last year, a cold spring made for a 17% smaller apple crop statewide, forcing orchards to raise prices.
Despite the better 2022 crop, prices still went up. A gallon of apple cider at Robinette is now $9, slightly up from $8.50 last year.
Robinette cited issues facing the entire industry.
“Everything you buy seems to be going up,” Robinette said. “We’re reflecting that in our prices. Our labor, our fuel, our inputs, everything’s up. So we’ve had to sneak the price up a little bit.”
On top of rising supply and labor costs, higher diesel prices are especially impacting Robinette’s.
They use the fuel to mow and spray the orchard.
“Every time we run a tractor through the orchard, that’s more expensive than it ever was before,” Robinette said.
Michigan is the third largest apple producer in the nation, but many larger companies are running short on employees.
“The big packing houses are looking for labor to run the line,” Robinette said. “Harvest help (too).”
The labor shortage comes at a pivotal time for producers.
“Apples are ready now,” Robinette said. “It’s not wait till next week. You have to pick them when they’re ready. That’s always a factor. The short season…we need help when we need it.”
According to the Michigan Apple Committee, the state is expected to produce nearly 30 million bushels this year, much higher than normal. Robinette said they plan their orchards years in advance.
“We don’t get our first crop to year two or three at the earliest,” he said. “So it’s always anticipation. Is this going to be a good variety that we planted five years ago? And now we finally get to see it. So that’s exciting.”
Robinette’s has been in the apple business since 1911, when Robinette’s great-grandfather started the orchard. They started selling cider in 1971 and doughnuts the year after.
They usually start picking apples around July 20, beginning with tart apples and moving to sweet tango and honey crisp apples by September.
Robinette’s waits until the end of August to make cider because the apples aren’t sweet enough until then. They just started selling fresh cider last week, and apple picking begins at Robinette’s this weekend.
“The cider we’re starting to make now is changing every time we make it,” Robinette said. “We have new flavors to add as new varieties ripen. So it’s exciting to see that change and what we can make with what varieties we have.”
With fall approaching, Robinette’s is ready to go, now open seven days a week.
“Whether it’s going through the corn maze, going on a hay ride, tasting wine in the winery, we’re just excited that fall is here and that people are coming back,” Robinette said.