Quebec apple producers expect a big year.
“We had a big bloom and a good set,” said Stephanie Levasseur, vice president of Longueuil-based Quebec Federation of Apple Producers.
“Now everyone’s busy thinning their trees.”
Packers should sell all the 2013 crop by the time the first summer apples arrive in August, Levasseur said.
Prices have remained strong after last year’s record highs, but she said they may be hard to maintain with a big harvest.
Another worry is the latest Nielsen Canada data, which shows a slight decrease in sales in Quebec’s apple category.
“After a steady increase in the category in the past 10 years, last year to this year shows a little slowing down,” she said. “But the year’s not over, so that may change.”
The long, hard winter spared most trees, though orchards that weren’t fenced to keep out hungry deer suffered damage, and mice stuck under the heavy snow even nibbled at older trees, she said.
Grower shipper Danny Boileau, a partner in Havelock-based Jean-Yves Boileau & Fils Inc., said one of his growers discovered deer preferred Honeycrisp trees to a block of mcintosh 20 feet away.
“You can’t tell the difference in trees by eye, but there must be something in the taste of the bark,” he said.
Demand for galas
Boileau and other growers are planting more galas as part of a three-year replanting program, which comes to fruition in two years.
“There a big demand for gala, and it’s not even 5% of the market,” Levasseur said. “It does well in Quebec and stores well but it’s harder to thin, and nobody wants a small gala.”
Honeycrisp, still a small part of the industry, also has grown in the past two years, she said.
“We were worried that too many people would get into it and produce lower-quality fruit,” she said, “but there’s so much talk about how hard it is to grow, only growers that really wanted to put in the extra work have planted it.”
Boileau, who grows 27 acres of the premium apple, finished selling them in February, his longest season ever.
“We tried SmartFresh on a few bins with nice results,” he said.
This year’s crop was less strong during the bloom, he said, which may mean the winter cold affected the buds.
He expects his empires and cortlands to finish in June, with mcintosh and spartans lasting longer.
Exports aren’t a priority for Quebec apple growers since they can’t even meet 50% of the demand in Quebec and there’s still room for growth, Levasseur said.
Boileau administrator Audrée Boileau said her family exports a little to Michigan and nearby New York state, but U.S. growers are paid less than Canadians for varieties such as mcintosh ,so it’s difficult to compete on price.
The company packs for 20-30 Quebec growers.