HARTFORD — Overall, apples are expected to outpace what was produced in Michigan last year.

However, it’s more of a mixed bag for how the fruit will fair in Southwest Michigan.

Michigan’s apple crop is almost in full season and the crop is expected to have an above average, healthy crop.

According to Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, this year’s crop is estimated to be 28 million bushels. Last year was below average with 20 million bushels.

While this year is expected to be good, it still pales in comparison to two years ago. In 2016, Michigan orchards produced a record crop of 31 million bushels.

Mark Longstroth, an educator with MSU Extension’s Paw Paw office, said the alternating years tends to be the case for apples – which he referred to as a biennial fruit.

“It can be heavy one year and lighter the next. It also depends on the varieties,” Longstroth said. “We have a lot of gala and Honeycrisp. Many are grown for processing for juice or apple slices.”

The good spring weather and great pollination time attributed to this bountiful apple season, Smith said.

“This summer, we have had some dryness in the growing regions, but we have irrigation for that,” Smith said in a news release. “That’s the only real growing issue. Now it’s the cool nights that will help promote the color of apples and develop the sugar content of apples, which makes them sweeter.”

Apple harvesting, Smith says, began last week. Analysts said growers can expect the season to be in full swing the beginning of September. This month and October are considered to be the prime months for apple growers, Longstroth said.

Among the first apples consumers will start seeing are gala apples and the popular Honeycrisp.

Apples are an important part of the business at High Acres Fruit Farm in Hartford. Founded in 1942, the farm has 250 acres dedicated to its apple production.

Trever Meachum, production manager at High Acres Fruit Farm, said they anticipate a nice crop this year. He said they plan on seeing high quality, not necessarily high in yield.

Last year wasn’t as bountiful due to late spring frost, Meachum said.

“A lot of it is weather dependent. Those storms on Tuesdays went north of us,” he said. “We don’t relax until (the apples) are boxed and shipped out. The weather in Michigan can mean sunshine today and a snow storm tomorrow.”

Longstroth said other Southwest Michigan growers won’t be as lucky as High Acres.

“We thought we had a poor crop because of problems with pollination,” Longstroth said. “The state’s numbers might be skewed because the Grand Rapids area is such a big producer. They carry most of the weight.”

Some growers over thinned their crops because they were afraid there would be too many apples, Longstroth said.

Farmers typically want 10 to 20 percent of the blossoms on a tree to become apples. There are chemical thinners that are used for this process, which Longstroth said might have been overdone for some farms.

Chemicals are the go-to measure because hand thinning can be expensive and time consuming.

Longstroth said several large growers in Berrien County have sold their operations over the years, also lessening the region’s impact for the state’s apple production.

At High Acres, their crops were thinned both chemically and manually to achieve a good balance.

“It won’t be a banner year, but it’s been a nice decent year,” Meachum said. “The market doesn’t look that great. Apples will be cheap because we’re no longer a state economy – it’s a global economy. That’s why you need to buy local.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski