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Forrence Orchards continues to be bullish on the Honeycrisp apple variety

Peter Forrence, one of three cousins who owns Forrence Orchards in Peru, NY, told The Produce News in mid-December that the McIntosh, Cortland and Honeycrisp are, respectively, the three top apples that the company produces. However, the firm, which benefits from its nearly two centuries of growing experience, also produces several other varieties.

Forrence Orchards has numerous orchard blocks in the Lake Champlain region of New York, rather than one continuous orchard. Forrence said 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, and it continually plants new trees that produce more fruit. He noted that it typically takes about 15 years for a new apple variety to become successful at market, but he has higher sights set for the Honeycrisp.

“It took the Honeycrisp only around eight years for widespread acceptance and high demand,” he explained. “Until several years ago, there were not sizeable volumes available. Our numbers continue to grow on it each year.”

The company does not grow the sweeter apples that are produced in other areas of the country, but rather sticks to the tried and true varieties that are known to produce high quality in Forrence Orchards’ region of the country.

“We very much like the Honeycrisp, and people who like particular varieties such as this one buy them regardless of the premium price it continues to demand,” said Forrence. “This is mostly due to the fact that there are still not huge volumes available, and so the apple sells out quickly.”

He acknowledged that there is a move in the apple industry to propagate other “club” style varieties similar to the Honeycrisp. However, the variety is difficult to grow, so producers in other regions don’t have great success with it. Still, he believes that the demand for it will continue to grow in the future.

“This is not the proverbial ‘apple a day’ product to pack in their kid’s lunch boxes that people buy,” said Forrence. “But its unique flavor causes apple lovers to gravitate toward it, and we expect that trend will continue.”

Since its founding in 1833, Forrence Orchards has progressed consistently through multiple generations. Mr. Forrence’s cousin, Mason, is the company president. Another cousin, McIntosh (Mac), is vice president. Seth Forrence, Mason’s son, is in management at the company. Seth Forrence is the third generation of Forrence family members to graduate from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. Today he uses his degree in pomology, and a minor in business, to help guide him in the management of the company’s orchard.

Forrence said why people buy the apple varieties that they do is based on several factors.

“There are those who simply buy what their mothers’ did and never got out of that habit,” he said. “Others try a new variety, like it and stick with it. People who don’t have good teeth tend to stay away from the harder varieties that are like trying to eat cement. These people tend to gravitate toward the McIntosh or others with similar textures.”

He also pointed out that the demand for some of the new club-style apples that are being developed at universities comes from people wanting to have something different than their competitors next door. But too many commercial varieties on the market at one time can have a downside.

“There is only so much shelf space that retailers can dedicate to the apple category,” said Forrence. “Today only 10 or fewer varieties are highly commercial. Retailer can support only so many, yet they are always looking for something that their competing chains don’t have.”

Forrence predicts that the company’s stored crop will last until the first of June. He said that the volumes the company produced this season is smaller by about 25 percent.

“This was not because of weather issues,” he said. “It’s just growing changes that the trees experience. We had two consecutive big crops, and this year the trees seem to have needed a rest.”

The company’s next harvest will start in mid-August, but Forrence said that this is a normal schedule for the company.

“Right now prices are a little lower than last year, but last year was a really bad year for most eastern states and supplies were tight which drove prices high,” he said. “We’ll see how things change as the season progresses. Demand is still pretty good, and with the nutritional, diet and other health benefits of apples being brought to the public eye, we believe demand will continue to increase into the future.”