County’s apple crop called best in years
ADDISON COUNTY — A sunny May, a rain-rich early summer and some recent cold nights have produced the perfect recipe for the state’s apple crop, already dubbed by area orchardists to be the best in years.
“It’s a bumper crop,” said Bill Suhr of Shoreham’s Champlain Orchards, which grows more than 50 varieties of apples that are hanging heavy on the trees.
“We have a lot of fruit available.”
That’s been the message from growers throughout the state, who are now swimming in McIntosh, galas, honey crisps and many other varieties.
“I would say it’s just short of fabulous,” Terence Bradshaw, a research specialist with the University of Vermont’s Apple Team, said of this year’s fruit season in the Green Mountain State.
“Overall, we are expecting 110 percent of a normal crop,” he said. That would mean 900,000 bushels of apples statewide, a crop worth more than $25 million, according to Bradshaw.
The good news has been building for quite some time, as orchards dodged the usual assaults from hail, bugs and quirky weather. Instead, weather has cooperated with a mixture of well-timed precipitation, sunshine and cool late-summer temperatures that have helped maximize tree yields while making the fruit large, firm, sweet and colorful.
One only needs to look at the wild apple trees to see how good things are going, Bradshaw noted. Those unmanaged trees are bursting with fruit, providing evidence that the managed trees in the orchards are in even better shape.
Bradshaw said the apple yield is shaping up to be particularly good in the Champlain and Connecticut river valleys. And he doesn’t expect to see any orchards have disastrous yields.
“I don’t think we’re seeing any place that has less than an 80-percent crop,” he said. “And for the most part, it’s healthy.”
The only negative of having a bumper crop is that the apple supply could exceed demand, growers reasoned. That means prices for apples are likely to take a dip, particularly when compared to last year, when the fruit was in shorter supply.
“I expect the wholesale prices will be a little low,” Bradshaw said, noting that even cider apples last year commanded an unheard-of $10 per bushel. Apples this year are in abundance not only in Vermont, but also throughout New England, according to Bradshaw. News is similarly good in the Midwest and in Washington state.
Vermont currently has more than 50 commercial-scale apple growers, with some additional businesses that produce fruit as a side venture or hobby. Addison County is home to some of the state’s largest and most successful orchards. For example, Champlain Orchards typically produces a crop of 70,000 bushels each year. Suhr expects this year’s crop could exceed 100,000 bushels.
And Suhr, like many of his industry colleagues, has taken solid steps to make his business more profitable. That has meant planting new and sometimes exotic varieties of apples that hold their price, as well as producing cider with new processing equipment. Champlain Orchards also produces pears, including the Asian varieties Kosui and Shinseiki.
Barney Hodges at Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall expects a big harvest this year, as well. He is less worried about the economic impact of the bumper crop.
Hodges said the Champlain Valley Macs are of such a great quality that they are sought after even during periods when there is a glut fruit on the market.
Dave Boyer, co-owner of Boyer’s Orchard in Monkton, is also reporting good news on the fruit front.
“It’s the best crop I’ve seen in 69 years,” Boyer said. “I’m excited about it.”
Boyer’s is a pick-your-own operation. While he does not calculate the bushel yield of the orchard’s 16 acres of mature trees and four acres of young trees, he expects to get twice the number of apples as last year. There are also pears, plums and other fruit.
Macs and Paulas are looking and tasting particularly good this year, Boyer said, adding, “The pears appear to be ahead of schedule.”
Recent sunny weather has also brought out the pick-your-own crowd.
“Our phone has been ringing off the hook,” Boyer said.
Bob Douglas is co-owner of Douglas Orchards & Cider Mill in Shoreham.
“We’re off to a good start,” he said. “The apples are a good size and are starting to color up.”
Douglas Orchards typically produces around 30,000 bushels of apples each year. Douglas is hoping for an above-average 2013 crop. That will depend a lot on the weather, he noted.
“I hope there is no more hot weather,” he said on Monday, explaining, “it stresses the trees and dries (the fruit) up quicker.”
Douglas Orchards is now offering Macs, ginger golds, Cortlands and galas, among other varieties.
Cider season is also starting with a bang, according to Douglas. The orchard annually produces around 12,000 gallons of the sweet drink.
“Things are looking good,” he said of the cider. “The flavor is there.”
Gregor Kent owns two small orchards, one off Lemon Fair Road in Cornwall and another off Pearson Road in New Haven. Together, they typically yield a combined total of 18,000 bushels, fruit that is sold wholesale. Cider apples will be sold to Citizen Cider in Essex.
“(The fruit) is looking great, with good size,” Kent said.
He, too, is expecting a better-than-average crop.
Alison Dayton is an associate at the Happy Valley Orchard & Farm stand in Middlebury.
“It’s a bumper crop,” she said, adding pick-your-own customers have been visiting in good numbers.
The annual Happy Valley crop averages around 6,000 bushels. This year’s yield is expected to be between 7,000 and 8,000, according to Dayton.
“The color and size is good,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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