Quebec apple growers, with an above average-sized crop to sell, are bracing for a drop in price as Washington apples arrive.
“In mid-October we were at around 2.1 million bushels, with almost 1.7 million bushels of that in controlled-atmosphere storage,” said Stephanie Levasseur, vice president of the Longueuil-based Quebec Federation of Apple Producers.
“It’s the highest number we’ve ever seen in storage,” Levasseur said.
The market started high and started well, she said, after negotiations between growers and packers set an opening price of $16 a bushel for bagged apples and $20 for tray apples.
“At the beginning of the season it was working fine,” Levasseur said, “but now that Washington has moved in aggressively, the committee will have to meet again.
“If the price goes down, nobody will be happy,” she said, “because it costs more to put apples into controlled atmosphere.”
She said growers who earn a front page or back page ads to promote Quebec apples in supermarket fliers receive a $2 rebate per bushel for certain varieties.
While most Quebec growers enjoyed a bumper crop, a frosty night in May cut volumes dramatically on sensitive varieties such as cortland and empire for growers near the New York border.
“At first we thought everything was fine because the blossoms didn’t turn brown,” said Danny Boileau, a partner in Jean-Yves Boileau et Fils, Havelock, Quebec, “but we quickly realized some varieties were damaged.”
Quebec’s four traditional varieties of mcintosh, cortland, spartan and empire sell well year-round, said Levasseur, though mcintosh sales have been dropping and empire has been slower to gain market share.
“We see a lot more Quebec galas,” she said, “and we’re starting to see a little more Honeycrisp, which started at $38 a bushel and is now down to $30.”
Quebecers love Honeycrisp, she said, but its price point makes it harder to move, and chains aren’t pulling on it as much.
Another challenge for growers is the amount of big fruit available, especially Honeycrisp, after a year of abundant sun and rain.
“Apples sized 88 to 72 are harder to sell in Quebec compared to medium sizes,” said Boileau, who harvested about 2,000 bushels of Honeycrisp this year and has thousands of young trees in the ground.
Fortunately, markets in New York and western Canada welcome larger apples, Boileau said.
Big fruit is also harder to store since it’s already less firm coming off the tree, said Levasseur.
Boileau administrator Audree Boileau said she hopes to have good quality apples in storage until July.
“It’s good for business,” Boileau said. “As a packer, it brings us work for the whole year.”