After devastating losses in 2012 and despite a rainy summer, Georgia apple growers are looking forward to one of their best seasons in years.
“Apples are one of those crops that like a lot of water as long as we can keep them clean and disease free,” said Tim Mercier, owner of Blue Ridge-based Mercier Orchards in the Appalachian Mountains of northern Georgia.
“So far we’ve done both,” Mercier said. “The size of the fruit is going to be excellent, and it looks like a good year for us.”
Gingergolds began Aug. 1, Mercier said, and harvesting should continue until early November with Pink Lady and goldrush.
“We normally run out of our apples in April, then we start picking strawberries,” said Mercier, who handles about 125,000 bushels a year, or up to 40% of the state’s apples.
In the past few years, fuji and Pink Lady have been his most popular varieties, with crispin and jonagold close behind and cameo gaining fans.
The apples are sold wholesale and at Mercier’s on-farm market, which attracts a million visitors a year, many of them tourists.
At R&A Orchards in Ellijay — which also grows peaches — golden delicious and fuji are tied for first place, with new varieties such as blondie and September Wonder coming on strong.
Honeycrisp is popular, third-generation owner Andy Futch said, but it ripens earlier in Georgia than other areas, so it may be finished by the time visitors look for it.
The key to success is constantly planting and rotating varieties to pique the public’s interest, said Futch, who also sees the buy-local movement growing stronger every year.
“We try to stretch our season from August to March to give us a wide window for selling opportunities,” he said.
Economic factors led to the decline of apple packinghouses in the state, said Mercier, leaving his as one of the last.
“Because we’re some of the earliest apples, we find ourselves many times coming onto the market while others are cleaning up last year’s controlled-atmosphere storage apples,” he said.
“If they’ve got a great big carryover, that price hurts our local new-crop apples. Consequently, on years when the old crop cleans up pretty good, we’re in a great position.”