Mother Nature's wrath spares Eastern apple growers

08/26/2011 02:53:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

Potential Hurricane Irene damage aside, weather has caused little problem for apple growers in the East.

Growers and shippers in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia said they anticipate near-normal production and acceptable returns for their products during the upcoming season.

“I think we’re in a very good, strong position in New York,” said Jim Allen, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association.

“We had excellent return bud and bloom. We didn’t have the perfect pollination conditions, but it helped us do natural thinning.”

New York growers should approach their five-year average of just under 30 million bushels this season, Allen said.

The U.S. Apple Association estimated New York’s crop at 30 million bushels at its annual Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference in mid-August in Chicago.

“We were getting nice rains right and they continued to grow nicely with the heat,” Allen said.

“This time of year, that’s great for apples. Later in the season, when they become mature, it would be a problem, but it helps them when they’re growing.”

New York got an early start on its apple deal a year ago, but this year, it’s on schedule, Allen said.

“What that means is we get into the big volume of our season about the end of August,” he said.

Picking of some early regional varieties started in mid-August, Allen said.

“We’ll be harvesting them throughout the state at the beginning of September,” he said, noting macintosh as the biggest of the early varieties.

Things were looking up for Geneva, N.Y.-based Red Jacket Orchards, said Brian Nicholson, president.

“We’re going to be definitely up from last year, but we had one of our smaller crops last year,” he said.

“It will be a very manageable crop, probably 20% over last year.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on Aug. 22, cartons of extra fancy 12 3-pound film bags of 2½-inch minimum ginger golds sold for $21-22, and paula reds sold for $20-21.

Cartons of extra fancy cell packed ginger gold 80s received $24.

“Price seems to be very healthy for everyone,” Nicholson said.

“Everyone should be happy with the pricing — the retailers, the growers, the packers. Everyone sold out early last year. Michigan was so short last year, it tapped all their product and affected prices.”

Tim Mansfield, sales and marketing director with Sun Orchard Fruit Co. in Burt, N.Y., shared the optimism.

“It looks like there should be an amply supply of a good-quality crop,” he said.

“Fruit size is back to more what we’re used to out here. Last year, the sizing was one to two sizes larger, and this year is more average-sized.”

The weather has cooperated throughout the growing season, on the whole, Mansfield said.

“No real issues there,” he said.

“There’s occasional hail, but it’s always localized. Where it happens it’s not good, but it doesn’t really affect the overall volume of the crop.”

In Pennsylvania, growers expected to reach the normal volume of 10 million to 11 million bushels, said Karin Rodriguez, executive director of the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program.

“The crop looks pretty good — maybe slightly smaller than last year’s — but it shouldn’t make a huge difference,” she said.

“We’ve got a nice crop. Our timing is about normal and we should have about the same amount of fruit as last year.”

John Rice, president of Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co., said he anticipates a leaner crop.

“We won’t have one of our bigger fruit crops,” he said.

“We had a light fruit set on account of a cool and cloudy spring, so we’re dealing with some reduced volumes. We expect to have maybe 80% of a full crop. It’s a different year than we’ve had in recent years.”

Demand for apples should be brisk this year, said David Benner, general manager of Fairfield, Pa.-based El Vista Orchards.

“I think price will be up across the board from last year, on processing and fresh,” he said.

Virginia growers said they expect to come close to their volume norm, 5 million to 6 million bushels.

“Everything so far is going pretty well,” said Alex Jeffries, manager of Markham, Va.-based Stribling Orchard.

“We’ve done our best fighting all the insects and everything. I think the only thing we’re scared of is all those stink bugs. We had it pretty bad last year. It seems to be the fall when we see them mostly, but they do damage early in the fruit.”

The outlook was positive for Jamie Williams, president of Turkey Knob Apples Inc., Timberville, Va.

“We’ve got a good, solid crop,” he said.



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