( Courtesy New York Apple Association

A colder late spring, hotter midsummer and more Atlantic storms than usual haven’t hurt the newer varieties of apples that consumers demand, several Eastern Seaboard growers say.

Downgraded from a hurricane by the time it reached New York Aug. 4, Tropical Storm Isaias delivered strong winds, some minor damage and power outages, but it also quenched the thirsty orchards, said Jessica Wells, business manager of Crunch Time Apple Growers, a cooperative of 150 New York state growers. 

Parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic recorded temperatures 4 degrees F or more above normal for July, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Aug. 12 crops report.

“For us, we were one of the areas where (Tropical Storm Isaias) was a welcome arrival. We had no damage from (the) storm, and it brought much needed rain,” said Brenda Briggs, vice president of sales and marketing at Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa.

Hurricane season runs July through November and is projected to be “extremely active,” with 19-25 named storms, seven to 11 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A couple other rains bookending Tropical Storm Isaias did the trick after a hot, dry June and July, Briggs said.

Some of the early varieties may be down a bit after an April 10 frost affected their blooms.

Rice Fruit’s Honeycrisp and ginger gold were expected to start harvest by Aug. 14, a week later than last year and a little lighter on volume, she said. Gala should start by Aug. 23 with similar volumes to 2019.

Western New York apple orchards are having a pretty good crop year so far, said Brett Baker, vice president of United Apple Sales, Lyndonville, N.Y.

“I don’t expect it to be a bumper (crop) by any means. We have a very good Honeycrisp, and gala and fuji are very good on the trees,” Baker said. “If any variety is spotty or inconsistent, it’s red delicious. To be honest, that’s where we want to be.”

United Apple Sales is one of the seven sales-agent partners of Crunch Time, Wells said.

She expects volume to increase by about 30% this year, with additional acreage reaching full production for both SnapDragon and Ruby Frost, both managed varieties grown only in New York.

SnapDragon harvest will begin in New York’s Hudson Valley in early September, followed by the rest of the state a couple of weeks later, Wells said. Ruby Frost should be ready in early to mid-October.

The crop volume may be about the same or slightly less, but it’s a different balance of varieties, for Lancaster, Pa.-based Hess Bros. Fruit Co., which has growers in Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York, said Chris Sandwick, director of marketing.

“With fruit from three different states, I think we’re looking at a very similar crop to last year, but we had early frost in spring that reduced size of crop a little bit,” Sandwick said. 

“But interestingly, we’ll have more Honeycrisp and gala and fuji than we did last year, even though we may have the same or little less overall. I think our growers have made a nice transition to varieties consumers really want.”

Virginia growers started harvesting and packing gala and Honeycrisp by mid-August, Sandwick said. 

Pennsylvania growers should start with the same two varieties, plus ginger gold, by Aug. 20.

Hudson River Fruit Distributors, Milton, N.Y., will start harvesting around the later part of August and early September, said Alisha Albinder Camac, director of operations at her family’s company.

“Luckily, we were not affected by the storm,” Albinder Camac said. “Fingers crossed, we will get through the next few months with the weather on our side.”

More than 350 miles northwest of the Hudson River Valley-based company, United Apple Sales and its H.H. Dobbins packing house didn’t have any ill effects either, Baker said.

Baker said he expects volume to be up about 8-10% from 2019 for the state’s western producers.

By the last week of August, United Apple Sales will finish the harvest of paula red apples, an early variety. Ginger golds will also be nearly finished harvesting and be in good supply.

Come the first week of September, galas, mcintosh and early Honeycrisp start. By the end of September, expect cortland, Snapdragon and empire. Red delicious come the first week of September, followed by fuji and Pink Lady.

“It’s very difficult for Western New York to find a strain of Pink Lady that harvests early enough, but we’ve found (the strain) Lady in Red Pink Lady,” Baker said. 

By the numbers

While Washington produces five times more apples than anywhere else in the U.S., it’s no surprise that New York is the big gun on the East Coast — you might’ve heard the fruit moniker of the state’s signature city.

Then come Pennsylvania and Virginia, followed by other states in the region.

The U.S. Apple Association’s Outlook 2020 event Aug. 20-21 was expected to be a deep dive into data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For instance, 2020 total apple production nationwide is down 3.4% compared last season’s output, the USDA estimated on Aug. 12.

Forecast at 30.9 million cartons, New York’s apple production may drop 1.6% compared to 2019, the most minimal decrease. 

“This is on par with our five-year average,” said Cynthia Haskins, president and CEO of New York Apple Association.

The East Coast’s two other largest apple-producing states may have the steepest declines, however: Pennsylvania’s projected 10 million cartons is down 17.2%, and Virginia’s 3.8 million cartons is down 15.8%.

The USDA also reported its Eastern apple production forecast in pounds:

  • New York with 1.30 billion pounds, compared to 1.32 billion pounds in 2019;
  • Pennsylvania with 420 million pounds, compared to 507 million pounds in 2019; and
  • Virginia with 160 million pounds, compared to 190 million pounds in 2019.

The nationwide average advertised retail price of apples of 72 cents a pound for the week of July 19 was 12.7% lower than the price at the same time last year, according to the USDA. P


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