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Apple crop for 2007 looks to be sweet

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APPLE PICKER WINSTON Menzie from Jamaica works in the top of a tree full of Cortlands at Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall Tuesday afternoon. A June hailstorm impacted some of the county’s apple orchards, but most orchards are anticipating a bountiful harvest this fall.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell


September 20, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

ADDISON COUNTY — Many area orchardists this week reported a decent-sized, flavorful crop of apples ripening for wholesalers and pick-your-own enthusiasts, though the fallout of a June hail storm is forcing at least one major grower to convert all of his fruit into cider.

“We’re cautiously optimistic we will have a good season,” said Andrea Ochs of Orwell-based Crescent Orchards. “We’ve had some good pollination and beautiful weather.”

Beautiful weather for apples doesn’t only mean sunshine. It also means moisture, which was in ample supply during the weekend of Sept. 8-9. That rain helped size up apples to a point where growers are breathing a sigh of relief after what had been a dry summer.

Ochs believes Crescent Orchards this season will hit its annual average of between 75,000 and 80,000 bushels. The harvest includes McIntosh, Empires, Macouns, red and golden delicious and Courtlands, to name a few.

Bill Suhr, owner of Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, is very upbeat about the outlook for his crop.

“I think we’ve got the largest crop of fruit we’ve ever had,” Suhr said. Champlain Orchard produces an average annual yield of 25,000 bushels.

Like Ochs, Suhr credited recent wet weather for plumping up the fruit in recent weeks. Cool September nights have also helped give the apples some stunning color. But he added the dry, warm summer infused fruit with some extra flavor.

“I think (consumers) will be startled by the size and flavor,” Suhr said.

Of course, Mother Nature giveth and taketh away.

Several Addison County orchards were affected by a late-June hail storm. Pellets rained down on the maturing fruit, in some cases bruising it to the point where it is not marketable for retail or wholesale.

While Suhr said his crop was “saved from significant damage,” the same cannot be said for Shoreham-based Sentinel Pine’s crop, which on average amounts to 100,000 bushels each year. This year the orchard’s entire crop will have to be turned into cider.

“Mother Nature is fickle; you just have to work with her,” said Roberta Blodgett, co-owner of Sentinel Pine.

Orchards this year can earn $24 to $25 per bushel for immaculate Paula Reds and Macs, according to Steve Justis, marketing specialist with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.

On the other hand, apples converted into cider will only fetch pennies per pound, Justis said.

Blodgett said that while Sentinel Pine is insured, the compensation will not cover what the orchard would’ve made had its crop survived intact and been sold through a broker.

She noted the sub-par crop also forced Sentinel Pine to take on only 15 Jamaican seasonal workers, instead of the 45 it had planned to employ this fall. Fortunately, other orchards were able to take workers that Sentinel Pine was not able to absorb.

Sentinel Pine will continue to process and package apples for other area orchards whose crops are coming to fruition.

Justis estimates around one-fourth of the state’s apple crop sustained light- to heavy hail damage this year.

Overall, the 2007 apple harvest is expected to be around 750,000 bushels, down 8 percent from last year. Vermont has about 40 apple producers throughout the state, which sell retail and wholesale to customers around the country. Those sales generate more than $12 million for the state’s economy, as well as an additional $7 million in value-added apple products like pies and cider.

“The apple harvest might be down slightly, but there are still plenty of delicious apples to pick in Vermont,” said Roger Allbee, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. “Overall, the conditions were favorable for apples and even fruit with a little damage from hail is still juicy and flavorful.”

Barney Hodges of Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall said hail only touched a small fraction of his crop, which could exceed 110,000 bushels this year.

“I think things are going very well,” Hodges said on Tuesday, while inspecting his crop.

Ever the realist, Hodges is reluctant to pronounce a forecast on the season. As an apple grower he knows that a fickle market and weather mean one often has to expect the unexpected.

“Nothing too much has gone wrong yet,” Hodges said.

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