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New York apple growers gearing up for a fast-paced year

“As of late April, New York’s apple trees look absolutely perfect,” Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association in Fishers, NY, told The Produce News April 29. “Growers are right on track with a textbook perfect season at this point. People might not like the cooler April temperatures, but apple trees love them.”AllenJim Allen

Mr. Allen added that things were really starting to pop now that the trees have broken dormancy and are wide awake.

“Once that happens, the proverbial horse is out of the barn,” he added. “From this point one of two things could happen: If we get cooler temperatures things will slow down a little. Warmer temperatures, conversely, would speed things up.”

The long-term weather forecast for the following month indicates that typical May temperatures would prevail in New York, meaning that days would gradually be growing warmer. Mr. Allen said that this indicates that the bloom, which will start in the Hudson Valley, is right on target for the season.

Apple growers talk tree counts, not acreage, when it comes to measuring how large a crop will be. Mr. Allen explained that today growers put three times as many trees on an acre as they did years ago. And the tree count in New York State has increased considerably over the past decade.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, commonly referred to as NASS, issues an apple tree survey every six years. One was done in 2006, and the most recent was 2012.

“The 2012 survey report indicated that we have a 24 percent increase over the previous six years,” said Mr. Allen. “But I say that it’s a very conservative number. There are many growers who do not respond to the survey because they prefer to not share that information, so it is quite common that the survey is not accurate. If anything, this is an underestimation. If every tree were counted, we would likely be up by 34 percent during the past six years.”

The 2012 New York State apple crop took a devastating blow due to inclement weather the previous spring resulting in the overall crop being down by over half of its normal volumes.

But Mr. Allen said that growers who would normally be busy in their storage and packingsheds didn’t take the down time to go on vacation. On the contrary, they were gearing up for what’s to come in the future.

“Growers and packers put their time to really good use this year,” he said. “A lot of packinghouses used the opportunity to do upgrades and renovations to their facilities. A number have added on to their infrastructure or added new equipment. There has also been a lot of new construction added over the past two years, and a couple of facilities are under construction now for new packing and new storage. And I have never seen so many new trees being planted as I have this spring — literally acre after acre of new density plantings for production that will being in three to four years down the road.”

Members of the New York state apple industry are open and welcoming to collaborate and work with other apple-producing states. They are all fully cognizant that by helping each other, they will be the entire industry grow into the future.

Mr. Allen noted that with Washington being by far the largest apple-producing state in the nation, the rest of the apple industry depends on it to increase its exports. That added demand will only help the domestic industry grow stronger.

Last year, Washington projected a crop of 130 million packed boxes would go to the fresh market. Some states measure their crops based on picked apples and others on packed apples. In Washington’s case, this means that the state produced between 150 million and 155 million total apples, with the difference having gone to processing.

“To offer a perspective on how large Washington’s crop is, New York’s total crop in a good year is 30 million picked apples,” said Mr. Allen. “Our predictions will be closer to target as we go through bloom and the June drop. By July we’ll have a good finger on sizing and all other details of what the crop numbers will actually be. If everything is normal, we’ll have a good full crop to get us through the season.”

Mr. Allen and his marketing colleagues spent the last week of April in New York City meeting with retailers and public relations firms. He said he was highly enthusiastic about how companies are asking for locally grown product today.

“We are very encouraged,” said Mr. Allen. “The locally grown emphasis continues to explode, and that means that our apples will have plenty of homes in our own state, as well as in the tri-state area and everywhere else we can reach in one to one-and-a-half days.”