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Forrence says demand on apple supply could lead to tight market

by Christina DiMartino | January 03, 2011
Peter Forrence, co-owner of Forrence Orchards in Peru, NY, said that the company is having a good season, but he added, "It's a little hard to know if we’ll be short of supplies as we head further into 2011. The damage to citrus due to the Florida freeze has put some pressure on alternative fruit items, including apples."

Increased export demand has added even more pressure to the U.S. apple supply this year, and Mr. Forrence said that more fruit is being exported to Russia, the United Kingdom, Asia and other areas of the world.

“The factors that are increasing the demand for U.S. apples have allowed us to market fruit at marginally acceptable levels this year,” he said. “Our overhead continues to rise, but if market demand stays strong, this year should be decent for apple producers.”

Rather than one continuous orchard, Forrence Orchards has numerous orchard blocks in the Lake Champlain region of New York. Mr. Forrence said that if a dot were put in the center of its growing area, it would extend about 15 miles in all directions. In total, the company produces apples on 1,100 acres.

The company is bullish on the Honeycrisp variety, which continues to reap handsome rewards. It typically takes about 15 years for a new apple variety to become successful at market, but it took the Honeycrisp only about eight years for widespread acceptance and high demand, so the company is watching its evolution carefully. Until about five years ago, there were not sizable volumes available.

“We continue to be a big proponent of the Honeycrisp variety, and our numbers continue to grow on it each year,” said Mr. Forrence. “There is a move in the apple industry to propagate other 'club’ style varieties similar to the Honeycrisp, but it’s a difficult apple to grow, and that is a deterrent to some who would like to produce them. We believe the Honeycrisp will continue to be a strong and growing variety.”

Mr. Forrence said that the company is also watching a couple of other club varieties carefully. The yet-to-be-named NY1 and NY2 varieties were developed by Cornell University and show promise for the future.

“These are on the horizon, and worthy of careful watch,” he said. “The NY1 is delightful. It is crisp, beautifully colored and it has a unique flavor compared to other varieties. Neither variety is available in commercial volumes yet, but we are in the early stages of figuring out a marketing scheme for when they are. There are very few trees in the ground, and most of those are young. It takes about three years for an apple tree to begin producing fruit, and a year or two more before it gives notable volumes. Some of what is being produced is being sold at green markets.”

Overall, Forrence Orchards is having what Mr. Forrence said is “glorious movement” this year. The orchards have been free of disease and insect problems, and the crop is in excellent condition with high quality.

“Participants in the market are realizing that grower location is as import as anything today, and the farther north apples are grown, the more acceptable the fruit is,” he added. “Northern fruit is far superior to what is grown south of New York City.”

The company is in the midst of installing a new packing facility and expansion project that will allow it to pack more apples.

“This new packingline sizes, labels and waxes the fruit,” said Mr. Forrence. “We don’t use an internal defect sorter because our apples are outstanding quality due to the growing practices we have in place. We’ll be up and running with this new line by February or March, with the intention to work out any kinks and have it in our scheme before next season’s harvest. We don’t have apples much past the end of May, so we’ll have a little time to give the machine practice.”

Mr. Forrence added that prices on apples are solid this year, and are expected to get stronger as the season progresses.