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Posted on Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Washtenaw County apple orchards struggling to survive this year's crop devastation

By Lizzy Alfs

Each fall, thousands of people visit the Wasem Fruit Farm in Milan to eat freshly baked doughnuts, pick apples and tour 115 acres of Michigan farmland.

But this year, there is one thing missing: crops.

Wasem is one of hundreds of farms affected by the state’s crop devastation — spurred by 80-degree temperatures in March followed by several deep freezes in April. A drought this summer only worsened the problem.

For decades, Wasem Fruit Farm owners Bruce and Jan Upston have offered “U-Pick” apples and other fruits, cider, jams and donuts. They produce about 8,000 bushels of apples in a normal season.

This year, the farm's apple trees —25 different varieties on 35-acres — are bare. They also lost pears, tart cherries, peaches and some raspberries.

“Right now, there should be several bushels of apples on each tree,” Bruce Upston said. “A tree is lucky to even have one. I’m pretty sure we have less than a bushel out of this whole orchard.”

The problem is widespread: Michigan only will produce about 3 million bushels of apples this year, compared to the 20 to 23 million produced during a normal season, according to the Michigan Apple Committee.


A shriveled apple lies on the ground at the Wasem Fruit Farm in Milan on Tuesday. Due to spring-time frost and low temperatures, Upston lost his entire fruit crop.

Melanie Maxwell |

In June, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a disaster aid bill approving low-interest loans for the state’s hardest-hit farmers. The Michigan Apple Committee is waiting for appropriations.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday the U.S. Department of Agriculture had classified all counties in Michigan "primary natural disaster areas because of drought and excessive heat conditions that began in March."

“This is the worst natural disaster to strike Michigan’s agricultural industry in more than 50 years,” Snyder said in a statement.

To survive the season, local orchards are cutting hours, planting different crops, ordering apples from other farms and offering different entertainment.

The Upstons are considering replacing cider with hot chocolate and U-Pick apples with pumpkins. Jan is making more jams and other baked goods. They’ve toyed with the idea of bringing in local entertainers or offering face painting and pumpkin carving.

For now, Wasem plans to be open Friday through Sunday in early September, and then possibly Tuesday through Sunday starting in late September. In normal years, the farm is open seven days a week.

“We planted some Indian corn and sunflowers and some extra pumpkins,” Upston said. “All of which have not done as well as we expected because of the drought. We just hope that people will hang with us and be here and purchase whatever they might.”

Ordering apples other farms, he said, really isn't an option at Wasem.

“I’ve talked to people in Grand Rapids and Ohio. People have talked about ordering from Pennsylvania,” he said. “It makes it a lot more expensive because then you’ve got the shipping.”

Wiard’s Orchards in Ypsilanti Township is more fortunate: the farm has been able to “pull connections” with other Michigan growers to purchase apples, said special events coordinator Rose Timbers.

“We will combine them with what we already have and we will sell Michigan apples,” Timbers said. “We won’t have U-Pick, though.”

Richard Koziski of the Dexter Cider Mill said he's ordering apples from northern Michigan. The cider mill opened last week.

"I don't expect much variety and I expect extremely high prices," he said. "But we're not trying to pass the prices onto the consumer because we can't do that. We've been in business for over 125 years."

At Lutz family orchard, located just southwest of Saline, owner John Broesamle said he hardly has any apples on his 12-acre orchard and doesn’t plan to order any. He said conditions haven’t been this bad at the family farm since 1945.

“I have no income from the orchard at all this year,” he said. “I am taking a loss on it this year, there’s no question.”

He said people still can come out and tour the farm, which also has livestock, other crops and a dairy operation.

Despite these historic losses, there is a common sentiment among growers: this year’s crop devastation was out of their hands and the growing conditions eventually will improve.

“We will get through this,” Broesamle said. “This orchard and farm did not become a fifth generation operation by not being able to survive a few bad years and storms here in Michigan. You have to be able to make due with what you have.”

"(Dexter Cider Mill) kind of weathers these things. Hopefully, this doesn't go on for too long," Koziski said.

Upston added: “We just have to make the best of the situation; it’s a situation we didn’t have control over and life goes on."

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 3:21 a.m.

Wiard's, forget the apples bring on the Haunted Houses. I Love Wiard's for Halloween.

Andrew R. Gorsuch

Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 1:49 a.m.

I'll miss the amazing variety of Michigan apples that are usually here in the fall!

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

Just a note from Shelby Castle, an employee at Makielski berry farm: "We have lots and lots of raspberries, and will have awesome blackberries by the middle of September. We have been in business for 60 years, and are pesticide free."


Fri, Aug 31, 2012 : 3:25 a.m.

Nice, I love blackberries.


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 5:14 p.m.

Wasem, if you keep making your ridiculously-good donuts, I will keep bringing my family religiously. I will miss your cider this year but your donuts hold their own.

sandy schopbach

Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 3:29 p.m.

I have a crabapple tree that I planted myself when I moved into my house. The squirrels LOVE it in the fall. They crawl out on every branch, eating the berries it makes. This year, for the first time in its 12 year lifetime, it didn't grow at all, and to date I've counted two berries - count 'em, TWO! The frost came just at the time it flowered, and the flowers were killed off. No flowers, no fruit. And in case you're wondering, those two berries are on a 2-inch section of one limb that grew and flowered after the frost. The squirrels are scratching their furry little heads. They're quite miffed.


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

When did Wiard's start using their own apples? Or anything of their own? Last time I was there they imported the apples, pies and cider (from Gordon's - just a new label)


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

Using the two apple trees on nearby property as a yardstick, one could tell months ago that the unusual weather had virtually destroyed much of Michigan's apple crop. (The two trees has almost no blossoms and the drought killed off any budding apples.) Drought has finally hit Michigan. In the Southeastern U.S., they had a 4-year drought that nearly drained reservoirs and some lakes. Central Canada had a 7-year drought which included parts of the northern tier of states. No one notices until the drought arrives in their area. So this year may not be a one-in-fifty-year drought, but may be the 4 to 7 year drought which will change Michigan for the foreseeable future. Maybe people are beginning to notice that the debate over global climate change has done nothing to relieve these global weather extremes. Politics and ideology solve all problems!! Hah! Reason, unity and consensus have deserted us like the faithful spring-time rains. This year we have no apple cider, next year we may not have much of other things. Or - we can depend on luck and just keep the debate going: that oughta work. ;-)


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

I heard on the news last nite we are still 10% in the drought right now. Meaning it has to rain at least three days steady to make up for all the lost fruits and vegetables this summer. Which won't happen because our growing season is almost over. Mild winter hot summer. This was a long hot summer wasn't it?


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 1:53 p.m.

I am kind of excited about the idea of touring one of these farms and purchasing donuts and pumpkins. If anyone is selling pumpkin butter, I would probably buy some of that, as well.


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

I have seen the corn at the market lately and it looks really weak. I have also heard pumpkins and squash will not be plentiful either. Maybe next year things will look better. From what I have read thru the DNR, the trees are experiencing drought stress. So don't be surprised if we see falling leaves early. I went north a while back and saw some trees actually turning. Scary.


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 1:49 p.m.

As long as they've got those doughnuts, I'm still in!


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

Americans are tough and don't look for a Government Bailout! ""We will get through this," Broesamle said. "This orchard and farm did not become a fifth generation operation by not being able to survive a few bad years and storms here in Michigan. You have to be able to make due with what you have."


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 3:05 p.m.

Don't feed the troll, Olivia.


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

Like Gov. Snyder's disaster aid bill? Not sure how you arrived at that comment. Not that they shouldn't be helped, of course they should, I just don't know why you went there when that's not even the case here.


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 11:54 a.m.

Earlier this summer I filled out a questionnaire about our interest all the possibilities listed in the article. We will be at Wasem for the donuts and hot chocolate! My son can hardly live without their apple butter, and this year we will make sure to get several pumpkins to support one of our local businesses. Best wishes to the Upstons.


Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 11 a.m.

I've been going to Wasem's for many years. I will continue to take my children there even without apples. Their donuts are the best thing about fall!

Krista Boyer

Thu, Aug 30, 2012 : 10:52 a.m.

It will hardly seem like fall without a few trips to Wasem's orchard! I guess we will have to venture out there for the doughnuts!