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New York apple growers will be picking rain-fattened apples this season, and a statewide crop at least as big as last year's is predicted, according to a consensus of the state's growers and industry leaders.

"Fresh-picked local fruit will be abundant this fall," Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, based in Fishers, NY, said in an Aug. 3 press release. "Consumers will be delighted with the fresh taste and bigger size of our new-crop apples this season."

Harvest of early-season varieties, like Ginger Gold and Paula Red, will begin in late August in the Hudson Valley, western and central regions of the state. McIntosh harvest, considered the traditional kickoff to the apple season, will begin the first week in September in most regions and a little later in September in the Lake Champlain area. The harvest will last through early November.

Growers are predicting a crop that will likely come within the state's five-year average of 29.095 million bushels.

"It's a good crop," John Russell, manager of Lake Ontario Fruit, a major packinghouse in Albion, NY, in the heart of the western New York growing region, said in the press release.

High demand for local fruit is driving consumers to purchase fresh New York apples in bigger numbers than ever before. Many of New York's orchards are within a one-tank drive of 30 million consumers.

"Because local demand is so strong, we are relieved we should have enough new-crop apples for everyone," Mr. Allen added in the press release. Heavy rains are the common element of the season. Rains put a lot of size into the fruit, so consumers should expect larger-than-normal apples. Consumers also should expect bigger selections of the popular apple varieties like Honey Crisp, since recently planted trees are coming into bearing production this season.

Growers will be looking for more sunshine in the remaining weeks of the season to offset the rains. Sunshine generates sugar content in the apples, giving them flavor.

The annual NYAA crop prediction is determined by a consensus of growers representing six apple-growing districts throughout the state. Other experts who contribute to the prediction include crop advisers, processing apple buyers and Cornell Cooperative Extension agents. The crop consensus was reached during a conference call held July 24.

New York grows apples on 44,916 acres. It ranks second in the nation in apple production.