Apple crop curbed by spring freeze
The spring's damaging cycles of bloom and frost have left their imprint on the signature fruit of the fall harvest.
Apple production is down about 14 percent across the nation and the year's crop may be the smallest in more than two decades, according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The early bloom and spring freeze that halved New York's apple yield and cut Michigan's by nearly 90 percent also struck some regional apple growers, but the damage was scattershot. Some orchards, apple varieties and even trees within the same rows suffered while others nearby did not.
That means enough apples to stock farmers market stalls, but fewer orchards offering public picking and higher prices for apple cider in supermarkets.
"Each area got hit differently," Penn State Cooperative Extension educator John Esslinger said. "Some of the orchards up in the Northern Tier got completely wiped out. Some others had some varieties depending on how far along the development of the bloom was at the time of different frost events. It varies a lot."
The early spring also shifted the apple season earlier.
"The harvest came off a week to a week-and-a-half ahead of normal," he said.
At the Scranton Cooperative Farmers Market this week, fruit growers were selling baskets of apples in various shades of red and gold.
"A lot of other states are really down," Paul Brace, owner of Brace's Orchard, said and pulled out a copy of Fruit Growers News with a cover story on the apple harvest. "We are fortunate we have enough apples to supply our stands."
The orchard, which makes cider from its own apples, is supplying the fall beverage to fewer grocery stores than normal this year, he said.
Greg Heller, owner of Heller's Orchard in Wapwallopen, said the frost decreased yields in low-lying areas of his farm, but there are later-season apples on the trees left to pick and his stand was crowded with apples and pears.
"We're going to get through the season without any trouble," he said.
The orchard was selling cider made from its apples for $5 a gallon, slightly more than last year, he said.
In area grocery stores, apple cider is selling for $7 to $8 a gallon.
The spike in cider prices is driven by the smaller apple crop in the central and eastern U.S., where a larger proportion of the harvest is marketed for processing than in western states, according to the USDA.
The total supply of processing-use apples is down 26 percent from 2011, the agency said, marking "a record low since the 1970s."
Ritter's Cider Mill in Jefferson Twp. had to increase cider prices by $1.50 a gallon to $5.75, which is still not enough to cover the increase in the price of apples needed to make the popular fall drink, Debra Ritter said.
"Cider apples have more than doubled in price," she said. "From Michigan to here, there is a total of maybe 40 to 45 percent of the normal crop."
At Miller's Orchards in Scott Twp., word of a national apple shortage has reached customers who are buying in bulk.
"People are buying half bushels of apples like crazy because they heard shortage," Robin Peregrim, one of the family-farm's owners, said.
The orchard decided not to open the trees to public picking this year because apples get dropped by visitors and the farm did not have apples to waste.
Although supply is down and demand is up, Peregrim vowed there will be plenty for dessert.
"I'm going to have them for pies," she said. "I'm not going to lose that."
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