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New York apple growers geared up for a second fabulous crop

"We convened on a conference call with our members across the state on July 25," Julia Stewart, spokesperson for the New York Apple Association headquartered in Fishers, NY, told The Produce News. They forecasted then that crop would be 30 million bushels, just slightly above our average of 29.5 million but not as high as our 2013 crop which was estimated at 32 million."

Stewart added that this season's crop could get even larger as the apples tend to get bigger when the weather is as great as New York's has been throughout this growing season.

"We have indeed had another fabulous year of growing conditions," she emphasized. "The spring weather conditions were perfect for pollinating, and we've had just the right amount of rain. Lots of sunny days and cooler nights that apples love have also blessed our crop. It's looking like a textbook crop at this point, and that will give us great crops for two-years running, for which we are extremely grateful."

mcintosh 300-web A New York-grown Mcintosh apple. (Photo courtesy of New York Apple Association)Stewart also explained that because of new plantings in New York, consumers will have an abundant supply of their favorite New York apples, from Honeycrisp to Galas and even the state's homegrown McIntosh, among many others.

Exports from New York growers are down due to the European Union's decision last spring to ban apples from import that are treated with the pesticide, diphenylamine, also called DPA. Further research is ongoing on this issue.

"Our export business is only about 10 percent of our crop, so that is not a significant issue for us," said Stewart. "We continue to examine our options and continually look for new markets. Exports are a beautiful thing in general because they help to relieve the pressure from the domestic market."

Although she clearly states that no one is a soothsayer when it comes to apple crop projections, she does believe that the national crop will be big for no other reason than no area has reported having bad weather.

"We did have a late bloom in New York due to the cold winter and cool spring, but thanks to the great summer we're now right on schedule," she pointed out.

One of the major issues that apple growers -- as well as just about every other fresh fruit and vegetable producers -- are faced with today is the critical labor shortage. Stewart stressed that it is getting harder and harder every year to find an adequate labor force.

"As our crop size increases, the problem just worsens," she said. "Something must be done about this problem in our country. Unfortunately, what Congress looks at as a political issue is a business survival issue to produce professionals, their families and their staffs of all levels. We rely on workers to bring in our crops.

"Immigration reform is absolutely critical for our industry," she continued. "Consumers have the right to expect safe food that is grown in sustainable ways. American producers are forced to do this, and then we have to compete with countries that do not have these restrictions. We cannot possibly continue to compete in such a market."

New York's good news is that harvest was underway statewide on August 15. Stewart said that growers will continue to pick apples until the first snowfalls or in early November, wrapping up with the McIntosh.

On the public relations front, the NYAA is again strong in its media outreach initiatives.

"Our consumer media outreach program is an aggressive one," said Stewart. "The goal that remains in the forefront is to put New York apples at the very top of consumers' minds from the very start of our harvest and throughout the rest of the year."

The NYAA's new website, www.nyapplecountry.com, provides virtually everything that anyone -- consumers and the trade alike -- would want to know about New York apples. Visitors will find apple history, varieties and their suggested uses, a plethora of fabulous recipes, nutritional information and much more.

"We asked consumers what they wanted available on our website and we put it all right up front to give them easy access to it," said Stewart. "The home page has a locator map where consumers can enter a zip code and find a pick-your-own or farmers market nearby. Information on all of our varieties, including heirloom apples, is on the site, and all of the information is searchable in numerous ways. We are also asking consumers to send recipes and photos for us to post, which is really helping us to build buzz for the site."

The NYAA's consulting dietician, Linda Quinn, is booking appearances on morning and daytime television shows to talk about the crop and the nutritional benefits of apples. She will also appear at the New York State Fair Aug. 21-Sept. 1.

NYAA also supports numerous fundraisers and special events every year. One of its fundraisers using apples and apple cider raises money for cancer research in the state. It is also one of the sponsors of the ING New York Marathon in November every year, and it hands an apple to every person who reaches the finish line.

"And we are certainly out there strong spreading the buy local message in New York and surround states," said Stewart. "New York grows more apples than any state east of the Mississippi River, and our goal is to get people to eat more of them."