Early warmth, spring frost cut expected Eastern apple crop volume

08/24/2012 03:50:00 PM
Jim Offner

The numbers are stark, Eastern apple growers say.

They look at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 crop estimate for apples and see the results of a killing frost that swept through many Eastern orchards in April.

“Can you name anybody east of the Rocky Mountains who escaped the frost?” asked Lee Peters, vice president of sales and marketing with Wolcott, N.Y.-based Fowler Bros.

Some did, even in New York, which will have roughly half the crop it had last year, according to the USDA.

New York appears to be hardest hit by the April frost, which followed an unusually mild March that created an early bloom.

Crop size

The USDA’s Aug. 1 estimate forecast a 590 million-pound harvest for New York, compared to last year’s 1.2 billion pounds. North Carolina will have 40 million pounds, compared to 140 million in 2011.

Other Eastern states escaped relatively cleanly. Virginia is anticipating a 230 million-pound harvest, up from 220 million in 2011.

Pennsylvania’s outlook is for 481 million, compared to 458 million a year ago.

In all, the U.S. apple forecast is estimated at 8.1 billion pounds, down from 9.4 billion a year ago.

Peters said his operation did not escape the killing frost, but he said others got hammered.

“We do have a crop that’s just about as big as we’d normally have,” he said.

The crop will have a normal start, but where the frost registers its final toll will be the end of the deal, Peters said.

“The question is when is it going to end? We don’t know if it’s going to be April, May, June,” he said.

March days in the 80s created the scenario for a disaster, said Tim Mansfield, sales andmarketing director with Burt, N.Y.-based Sun Orchard Fruit Co.

“It brought out a lot of fruit four to five weeks earlier than normal,” he said.

Some areas were spared, particularly orchards near Lake Ontario, Mansfield said.

The other side of the short crop likely will be higher prices than a year ago, said John Teeple, owner of Wolcott-based Teeple Farms.

“It appears as though the market will be up,” he said.

Pricing

As of Aug. 20, tray-pack cartons of U.S. extra fancy gala apples from California were $45-48.50 for 80s, $46 for 88s, $40-43.50 for 100s, and $38-38.50 for 113s, according to the USDA.

A year earlier, the prices were $42.50-44.75 for 80s and 88s, $38.50-40.75 for 100s, $34.75-36.75 for 113s, and $30.75-34.50 for 125s.

For some of the crop, the processing segment awaits, said Jim Allen, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association.

“I think the percent of overall total apple crop might be close, but what percentage of the crop we have that goes into the fresh market is the number we’re trying to get our arms around,” he said.

Elsewhere, growers were counting their blessings.

“I have to say that from our standpoint, we’ve had a guardian angel over us this year,” said John Rice, vice president of Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co., which estimates 95% of its crop to be in “pristine” condition.

Geography saved Rice’s fruit, he said.

“We’re in south-central Pennsylvania, and all of our orchards are up on hills of what we call South Mountain, the easternmost ridge of the Appalachians,” he said.

The Mid-Atlantic area largely escaped frost damage, said David Benner, general manager of Fairfield, Pa.-based El Vista Orchards.

“We’re fortunate to have a good crop of apples on the trees at this point, and quality seems to be good on the crop,” he said.

Virginia growers had to cope with a days-long power outage associated with a storm that blew through the Washington, D.C., area July 4.



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