September 18, 2017

Apple crop expected to reach 10-year high

PHOTOS/EDD COTE
Gerard Beirne, owner of Berlin Orchards, picks apples at the orchard. Thanks to the abundance of rain, they're much larger than last year.

It's just about time for scarves, pumpkin everything, football and of course apple picking at your local orchard, and this year, farmers are promising an abundance of apples.

"Nice and juicy," Charles Koshivas said of the apples at Fairmount Fruit Farm in Franklin.

Apples of all varieties are looking great, he said. There has been plenty of water this year compared to last year, which Koshivas said is helping the fruit to grow larger and juicier.

Local farmers agree: last year was not a good growing season.

2016 stunted by drought, late freeze

According to the National Weather Service, last year's precipitation was the fourth lowest since 1997 in the Worcester area at 40.93 inches, seven inches lower than the 20-year mean.

Beginning in June, more than 90 percent of the state was under some kind of drought classification. By August, the beginning of apple season, more than 60 percent of the state was under a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Orchard worker Bertie Henry helps to gather apples at Berlin Orchards, which hopes this year's strong crop brings out more apple pickers.

That, coupled with a late freeze on Valentine's Day, had a devastating effect on apples and other fruits, said Jon Clements on the UMass Fruit Extension program.

That drought slowly subsided to the point where just less than 20 percent of the state was classified as abnormally dry.

USDA projects 10-year high in orchard yield

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), last year's apple crop of about 29 million pounds was among the smallest in 10 years, second only to the 28 million number in 2012.

This year, the USDA is expecting about 46 million pounds of apples, the highest mark in 10 years.

"There will be lots of apples and they'll be big," Clements said.

The numbers vary, but most organizations tracking the production of apples agree that the apple crop has made a stark turnaround from last year.

The New England Apple Association expects an apple crop that's about 38 percent larger than last year's and about 14 percent higher than the region's five-year average.

According to the U.S. Apple Association, the state's apple crop is expected to grow by 59 percent from last year and 19 percent above the state's five year average.

Koshivas said his apples are averaging about double the size they were last year. He applied the same metrics to the amount of apples.

"Last year was a scrape-by year," he said. "Nobody made any money last year."

Despite some hail in the late spring and early summer, Gerard Beirne said his apples at Berlin Orchards are looking fantastic.

Last year's "drought was very, very severe, no doubt about it," Beirne said, noting the dry conditions actually helped keep stress off of the weak trees last year by limiting the size of the fruit.

He had those same concerns coming into this year, but they looked good in the spring and are still doing well.

"We had a fabulous bloom and everything went great," he said.

To compensate for the small crop last year, he offered fewer apples for wholesaling to save more for the pick-your-own season.

"That's where the best bang for the dollar is, in retail," he said.

Hoping for sun

Now, farmers hope the weather stays nice and relatively dry, at least on the weekends, so families can go apple picking so the larger-than-normal crop doesn't go to waste.

Apple season just officially started late last month and it's been a bit wet on a few Sundays, but like a true farmer who literally weathers the storm, Beirne said it'll all work out.

"Not every day is Sunday and not every day is sunny," he said.

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