By JOHN FLOWERS
SHOREHAM — This summer’s wet weather may have been tough on corn and hay fields, but it has helped produce a bumper crop of apples at local orchards.
“Most people are looking at a good crop,” said Steve Justis, marketing specialist for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. “If we can get through the next few days of wind, I think we’ll be looking at a good year.”
Vermont orchards yielded approximately 800,000 bushels of apples last year, according to Justis. This year could be substantially better.
“I think the numbers could be up 10 percent for this season, if we can avoid complications from hurricane winds,” Justis said on Monday, alluding to the remnants of Hurricane Ike that had battered portions of Texas over the weekend. Thankfully, the forecast for Vermont for the balance of this week was for sun and mild temperatures. And another big plus: Most Vermont orchards averted hailstorms this past spring that did significant damage to fruit crops in New York state.
Addison County continues to be the largest apple producing region in the state, according to Justis. Economic pressure, brought on primarily by competition from abroad, has whittled down the state’s major commercial apple producers to a solid core of around 25, according to Vermont agriculture officials.
Bill Suhr of Shoreham-based Champlain Orchards anticipates his operation will exceed the 27,000 bushels of apples it produced last year. Not only is there a greater abundance of fruit, but the individual apples are larger and more colorful than last year.
Suhr explained that a dry May helped create good pollination conditions for the crop. The rain nourished the apples, with key periods of recent sunshine helping to give the fruit a particularly vibrant rosy hue.
“We had an ideal growing season,” Suhr said.
The early, bursting coloring has made for a very efficient picking schedule, Suhr added. Since the apples are ripening more quickly and simultaneously, that will likely mean two sweeps of picking instead of the usual three, according to Suhr.
“We are half-way through the harvest,” Suhr said, with current ripe varieties that include McIntosh, Golden Supremes, Galas, and Honeycrisps.
Bob Douglas of Douglas Orchards in Shoreham is also forecasting bountiful news. He is confidant Douglas Orchards will exceed last year’s output of 30,000 bushels.
“Prices from the market are promising to be pretty good,” Douglas said. “And the weather is supposed to be nice. We hope people come and pick their own apples.”
Justis said the apple market “hasn’t really settled yet,” but he anticipates the wholesale price for apples to increase slightly to an average of around $18 to $20 per bushel, with a retail price of $20 for $25. Some of the more unusual varieties of apples could fetch $35 to $40 per bushel, according to Justis.
Orchardists will not be doing cartwheels over the nice apple prices this year, however.
“The higher prices that we’re seeing this year are probably going to be gobbled up with higher fuel prices,” Justis said.
In Monkton, Jenny Boyer of Boyer’s Orchard reported a “good crop,” one that is likely to meet or exceed last year’s harvest of 4,200 bushels.
She said that while this summer’s weather was not good for the garden portion of her business, it was great for apple growing.
“The fruit looks wonderful,” Boyer said. “There is good size and color.”
Some of the fruit at Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury sustained some hail-related damage, but folks there were nonetheless upbeat. Ripe varieties at the orchard this week include McIntosh, Courtland, “Sweet 16,” Wealthy and Ginger Gold.
Apples blemished by hail damage will be used for cider, as Happy Valley Orchard doesn’t use drops for that purpose, according to employee Jan Reynolds. She stressed many apples escaped the hail.
“We have some beautiful apples,” Reynolds said.