Apple crop down, prices up

  • AppleHarvestClarkdaleFuirtFarmPf-GR-100312
  • Recorder file photo/Paul Franz<br/>A box brims with apples outside Clarkdate Fruit Farms in Deerfield. The orchard will celebrate 100 years in business Sunday.

Apple lovers know that this is their time of year to savor the harvest.
But with this year’s crop down by about 20 percent across New England, you may need to buy your fruit in the next few months, and you will likely pay more for it and for cider.

Apple production is down nationwide except Washington state, about 20 million bushels below the 225 million bushel average, officials say. Final numbers will be released next spring.

New England produces only a few million of the total nationwide, and the estimated regional loss of 25 percent to 40 percent fares better than top producers like Michigan with an estimated 85 percent loss.

But many New England orchards say they will likely have to shorten their pick-your-own season and find other ways to make ends meet.

Some growers, like Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield and Quonquont Farm in Whately are reporting that frost in March and April ruined at least part of their crop, limiting the availability of certain varieties.

“It’s spotty,” said Tom Clark of Clarkdale, who said the apple season got off to an early start and probably will last until about the end of the year, contrasted with last year, when the season lasted through March. The April frost affected trees in low-lying areas in particular, he said, so the supply of apples is down by more than 50 percent.

That translates to none of the pick-your-own business that attracts families to Clarkdale at this time of year, and it means that the Deerfield orchard is retailing its supply rather than selling them to wholesalers.

Just to the north, at Colrain’s Pine Hill Orchards, David Shearer said, “We’re kind of on the lucky side.”

With little crop loss, there, pick-your-own business is still on track, and Pine Hill is not only wholesaling and retailing its apples, but it’s also cashing in on higher prices because Michigan suffered a loss of about 85 percent of its crop and New York state lost about 40 percent of its crop to frost.

“The bottom line is it’s so much better off than to the west of us,” said Wesley Autio of the University of Massachusetts Extension. The overall weird weather patterns that have decimated the apple crop to the west have increased prices by 30 to 50 percent at the wholesale level.

The price that Clarkdale, Pine Hill and other orchards pay for cider apples has also increased this year, from about $4 per bushel to about $10 a bushel. So expect to pay more for cider, as well.

Quonquont suffered so much damage that it’s not open for apple picking at all this season, said Farm Manager Ann Barker.

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