By Ranger Steve
Tree branches hang heavy under the weight of fruit. A falling apple hit Isaac Newton. I hit my head on a hanging apple when mowing because I did not duck low enough. My thoughts will not revolutionize science like Newton’s gravitation law, but maybe hitting my head on an apple knocked some good sense into me.
People have commented on the abundance of fruit this year and wonder why it is expensive. A news report stated the cost last year was high because fruit production was low and the market could charge more. This year, it was expected the abundance would bring down the price but it went up instead. I am not an economist and do not understand what drives market prices. Perhaps farmers are recovering last years losses.
One thought is that people want slave labor wages paid to fruit pickers but that means hiring undocumented immigrants. Orchard owners have had difficulty finding American citizens willing to work for the low wages. Even when fruit is abundant, the farmer needs to find a way to get the product to market and hopefully consumers would be willing to support fair wages for workers.
A news report proposed many migrant workers did not come to Michigan this year because they found work in other states last year and returned to those states. Others suspect tighter immigration efforts reduced the number of available cherry and apple pickers. As consumers, we only see the price at the store and do not understand why prices go up for both less and more abundant produce.
As a naturalist, I have a better understanding for why plants may be producing a bumper crop of fruit this year. Growing conditions have been very good. Last year frost killed flowers that resulted in trees storing energy instead of spending it on fruit production. Insects that year did not have flowers for nectar and they suffered from the frost. Pollinating insects found better survival conditions this year so they were able to do their work of helping plants with successful fertilization.
Because flowers were killed last year, the plants were able to store more energy for use this year. Oak trees normally produce a small crop of acorns the year following a large crop because they do not have the stored energy for the task. It serves them better to produce a large crop one year and a smaller crop the next. Wildlife cannot eat the large supply in a good year and surviving seeds produce young trees. A low crop likely means a lower survival rate for animals but that is not trees concern.
Tree reproduction is determined by weather conditions, insect abundance, and the ability to be flexible enough to survive good and bad production years. Each tree only needs to replace itself during its lifetime to maintain a stable tree population.
My thoughts are that trees saved energy and stored it in roots last year. Fortunately, this year they encountered great growing conditions and had stored energy for massive fruit and seed production. Farmers are resilient like trees. They survived tough times last year and this year they are reaping the benefits of a good growing season. Farming horticulture depends on nature’s growing conditions and farmers roll with the punches. Fortunately, an excess of fruit production allows us to enjoy apple pie. Migrating birds get to fill their stomach for their long trip. Squirrels and deer get to enter winter with a good supply of fat.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.