When the Boileau family installed the Ferrari of internal defect detectors in the new $2.7 million packinghouse on its Havelock, Quebec, farm, minutes from the U.S. border, it was looking forward to a busy harvest.
Instead, it looks like the sleek black machine will prove its worth sorting apples damaged by hail the week of June 11.
“We’re now equipped to pack apples we wouldn’t have packed before,” said office manager Audree Boileau.
“It takes too much time and would have cost too much to sort them by hand,” she said.
After a spring frost damaged orchards in southern Quebec, Ontario and New York, Boileau said finding enough apples to pack may be the family’s biggest challenge this year.
She said Jean-Yves Boileau Inc. packs 40% of its apples from its own 200 acres, which escaped frost and hail, and 60% from 30 other growers.
“It’s not a super good year, but it’s not a disaster,” said Boileau’s brother Danny.
He said he’s pleased with the new equipment, now packing last year’s cortlands, empires, spartans and macs.
Business development manager Tony Jouvin estimates Maison de la Pomme, a grower, packer and processor in Frelighsburg, Quebec, has lost half the fruit from its 600 acres of orchards to frost.
“We still have some good spots in some varieties, but it’s going to be a quiet year,” Jouvin said.
Cortlands, favorites for baking, were among the varieties hit hardest, he said.
Unlike the Boileaus, Maison de la Pomme will have no problem finding apples for its growing Vitapom juice division.
“A lot of producers will probably have defects on apples, so we’ll be able to process them into juice,” Jouvin said.
Maison de la Pomme still plans to add 40,000 square feet of space to its packinghouse this summer, he said, complete with a new optical sorting line.
Jouvin expects to have macs until the end of June, and said prices are good and expected to rise. They may be moderated by a good crop in Washington and Nova Scotia, where he already buys Honeycrisp, empire and gala apples.
Pierre Jodoin, co-owner of Vergers Paul Jodoin in St. Jean-Baptiste, east of Montreal, who grows 500 acres of apples, said his crop was looking pretty good in early June, with only minor frost damage.
“Here, it’s going to be a good crop,” Jodoin said, who processes juice and cider under the Tradition label.
Jodoin said Quebec growers with apples will walk a fine line on price this year.
The challenge, he said, will be to get a good price for the crop and maintain market share while ensuring that prices and promotions in the supermarket entice consumers to buy Quebec apples.
Prices for juice will also be high on both sides of the border, he said.
“We have to make sure we don’t jump at the highest price at the beginning and end up having to drop it because we have to move our product,” he said.
“It’s something we have to be very careful of.”