By Stan Maddux
FENTON, Mich. — Authorities believe a well-organized ring of thieves is responsible for stealing tons of apples and pumpkins from orchards in Indiana and Michigan.
Two weeks after an estimated 20,000 pounds of apples were stripped from trees at Williams Orchard in La Porte, Ind., in late September, more than three acres of apple trees were picked clean at Spicer Orchards in Fenton, Mich. and 350 pumpkins were taken from McCallum’s Orchard & Cider Mill about 90 miles to the east in Jeddo, Mich.
Fifth generation owner Matt Spicer said just a handful of apples were still left on the highest branches of the taller trees at his orchard. Even more amazing, perhaps, not a scratch was left on any of the leaves or branches on the 4,000 invaded trees.
“Anybody who harvested that quick without any damage would be better than any of the picking crews I’ve worked with for 40-years,” he said.
Spicer estimated the value of the stolen apples at just over $14,000.
Only a couple of sets of tire tracks in the ground were left behind, he said. Spicer said the theft occurred during a four-day period between when the trees were checked. No suspects have been reported in any of the heists. Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell told the Detroit Free Press “a major league operation” seems at work in the thefts from both states.
Mark Longstroth, a Michigan State University fruit educator, said it must have taken about a dozen people to pick that many apples at each location and a semi with a flatbed trailer to haul away what he figured to be more than 700 bushels combined. He also said the thieves must have had a market for that much stolen produce.
“Obviously, that wasn’t a couple of people stopping to pick some apples to take home. That sounds like somebody had a plan,” Longstroth said. He added he has never heard of so much fruit taken at once during his over 30-year career in agriculture.
Spicer said he never heard of such a large scale produce theft until reading about the heist at Williams Orchard in northern Indiana.
“I don’t really want the apples back at this point but, boy, I’d like for somebody to get caught,” he said.
Spicer said the orchard consisted of seven to eight year old trees just now reaching maturity. They were planted after all of original trees at the orchard started by his family 150-years ago were taken out. Fortunately, Spicer said the trees on his other three and a half acres were picked before the thieves showed up.