After last year’s drought yielded small apples, growers this season expect a size rebound. ( Courtesy Fowler Farms )

Larger fruit size is the dominant theme for the upcoming Eastern apple season.

“We had a lot of rain this year, so sizing is definitely up. Last year, we had drought conditions, and fruit size was small — a lot of 113s. This year, the dominant size is probably 80s to 88s,” said Alisha Albinder, operations manager with Milton, N.Y.-based Hudson River Fruit Distributors.

That’s good, she said.

“Usually, 72 to 88 is the sweet spot,” she said.

That was the picture at Wolcott, N.Y.-based Fowler Farms, said Dave Williams, vice president of sales and marketing.

“Fruit is sizing and coloring well,” he said. “We’re expecting a full crop this season with larger apples.”

Growers had perhaps a bit too much rain this year, but the moisture was welcome — especially following a very dry 2016 season, said Mark Nicholson, executive vice president of Geneva, N.Y.-based Red Jacket Orchards.

“Anything’s going to be better than last year,” he said. “I’ll take (overly abundant rainfall). It tends to size fruit quite well over the crabapple-sized fruit we had that went to the juice business.”

Size 80s appeared to be dominant, Nicholson said.

“We are expecting a lot of that type of fruit,” he said.


N.Y. hail damage

Not everybody got through the growing season unscathed, said Jeff Crist, partner in Crist Bros. Orchards in Walden, N.Y.

“Many growers have some material hail damage, including ourselves, but it involves less than 20% of our acreage, resulting in mostly clean, high-quality apples,” he said.

“A strong crop with good rain and irrigation is on track to put us as a reliable supplier to national retailers this year.”

As of early August, problems from hail had been “spotty, but where it’s hit, it’s been quite severe,” said John Teeple, owner of Wolcott-based Teeple Farms.

Some hail-damaged fruit will be diverted to processors and juicers, Teeple said.

“It seems we’ve had rain almost every day, with a handful of hail,” he said.

Lisa Fetterhoff, apple saleswoman for Greencastle, Pa.-based Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., was similarly optimistic.

“Excellent growing conditions are generating an outstanding quality crop of Eastern apples for our grower-shipper partners to bring to market,” she said.


Volume estimates

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in an early August estimate, predicted year-on-year volume increases in all Eastern states.

New York, the second-largest apple-producing state in the U.S., has an estimated volume in 2017 of 28.5 million 42-pound carton equivalents, up 2% over 2016’s 28.1 million cartons, but well below 30 million-plus production of 2013-15.

Pennsylvania, the Eastern region’s second-largest apple producer, is forecast to have 11.7 million cartons, which would be up 11% over 2016’s 10.5 million cartons.

Virginia’s estimate is 5.2 million cartons, up 22% over the year-ago volume of 4.3 million.

West Virginia’s estimate of 2.2 million cartons is 18% higher than the 1.9 million last year.

By comparison, Washington state is forecast to ship 159.5 million cartons of apples in 2017, down 8% from the 174.3 million cartons in 2016, and Michigan’s estimate is 19 million cartons, down 32% from nearly 28 million a year ago.

“I think we are in line for a good crop this season, from everything I’ve heard,” said David Robishaw, regional marketing specialist with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“We missed the devastating spring freeze we got last season, and we are set to have a bigger crop than last year.”

Spring cold snaps interfered with last year’s crop, Robishaw said.

Cool nights in late July and early August were beneficial to the crop, said Brenda Briggs, vice president of sales and marketing with Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa.

“The fruit is progressing just as we would like,” she said.

Rice Fruit harvested its first apples of the season, ginger golds, the week of Aug. 7, with galas and Honeycrisps to follow soon, Briggs said.

Good size and color are expected, said Mark Russell, grower and chairman of the marketing committee with Wolcott, N.Y.-based Crunch Time.

“We’ve got some great coloring weather, which we haven’t had the last couple of years,” he said.