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Forrence Orchards wrapping up season early

Peter Forrence, one of three cousins who own Forrence Orchards in Peru, NY, told The Produce News that the key to the eastern apple deal this year is that there are limited supplies. Overall, New York’s apple production is down by 60 percent due to freeze and frost damage.

“Supplies are running out rapidly,” said Mr. Forrence. “And demand continues to be strong. The Western U.S. had a sizeable crop, and some of that fruit is working its way to the East to fill the demand.

“The crop will be done much sooner than normal,” he continued. “And we’re all already focusing on next year’s crop.”

There has been a bit of a buzz in the market about Eastern apple growers reclaiming their market from Western producers in 2013 when, everyone hopes, there is a more normal or even an abundant crop. However, this does not have an effect on Forrence Orchards because the company’s No. 1 apple is the McIntosh, a variety that grows almost exclusively and extremely well in New York.

“Price pressures from the West might affect us, but if it does it will be extremely little,” said Mr. Forrence. “Everyone wants some McIntosh apples, and the Honey Crisp apples grown in the West cannot compare with the quality of what we grow here due to the climate and soil. Western Honey Crisp apples are just not as attractive as those produced in the East in my opinion.”

But Forrence Orchards has already sold out of Honey Crisp apples for this season. Mr. Forrence explained that the price structure of the variety makes it attractive to sell in the fall when they are in high demand. And it’s a very difficult apple to store, so it is best to sell them fresh.

“We typically sell out of the Honey Crisp in the fall and then we move on to the McIntosh, which stores well and is, in a normal year, available through June,” said Mr. Forrence. “Due to our short crop this year, however, we’ll be out of them in March or early April.

“Our Cortland crop will end in early January,” he continued. “It normally ships through April.”

Prices, he noted, are significantly higher than normal this year, but he added that he “wouldn’t say that it’s a gold market.” Prices, rather, are up in relation to the short crop in the East, reflecting the supply-and-demand rule.

“We hope to see these prices become normal within a couple of years, and perhaps even next year,” said Mr. Forrence. “Even at this year’s higher pricing, it’s still nowhere near what chain stores are paying for apples imported from New Zealand when the U.S. isn’t shipping. This is proof that consumers are willing to pay a little more for U.S. apples than they have in the past.”

He explained that there is a tremendous effort afoot, mainly in the United States, at the Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, on the development of new apple varieties.

“Some experimentation now in the works is looking very promising, such as apples that are more organic friendly,” said Mr. Forrence. “Some have Honey Crisp parentage, but they grow and store better.”

The Honey Crisp, he added, created a unique situation in the apple industry when it was introduced. Rarely does a new variety hit the market and become an instant hit like it did. But the McIntosh continues to enjoy strong demand, especially in the East and Midwest. Mr. Forrence said that the McIntosh is a classic eating apple, and it cooks down well, which some people prefer.

As the bulk of Forrence Orchards’ business is done in the metro areas of New York, it is strongly involved with events such as the ING New York City Marathon, which was scheduled for Nov. 4, but canceled two days prior due to superstorm Sandy.

“We were happy to be able to give those apples to food banks in the area,” said Mr. Forrence. “Jim Allen, the president of the New York Apple Association, of which we are members, did an outstanding job of getting those apples where they needed to go. All of the membership is very pleased, and we have the highest regards for Jim’s efforts.”

He added that the McIntosh apple is the one handed to every runner in the marathon as they cross the finish line.

“The McIntosh is the apple of the Big Apple,” said Mr. Forrence.