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Eastern apple season ready to shine

The 2019 eastern apple crop is shaping up to be a strong one, on par with previous years, despite July’s record-breaking heat.

According to the Fishers, NY-based New York Apple Association, Empire State farmers are expecting to harvest some 31 million bushels this fall. “That is down compared to last year, but ahead of previous years,” Cynthia Haskins, NYAA president and chief executive officer, told The Produce News.

Acreage devoted to apples has been holding steady in New York, with farmers devoting more space to newer varieties, including Honeycrisp, SnapDragon, Evercrisp and SweeTango. Many farmers have been transitioning out standard-size trees in favor of dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties. “This allows more trees to be planted per acre (aka tree density) and yields more fruit per acre. These trees also reach fruit-bearing age faster,” Haskins said.

Neighboring New Jersey is also expecting a strong crop this year.

“The majority of our apples are sold direct-to-consumer and are a fall favorite for consumers across the state,” Thomas Beaver, director of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Division of Marketing and Development in Trenton, NJ, told The Produce News. “This year’s crop is shaping up to be outstanding. The weather has, for the most part, cooperated, and the diversity of soil and climate types across the state continue to make New Jersey an ideal location for apple production. Our apple growers have identified the varieties that perform best in our area, so any consumer sourcing Jersey Fresh apples can expect excellent fruit!”

Wolcott, NY-based Fowler Farms packs and ships 24 varieties of apples grown on its 2,500 acres lining the shores of Lake Ontario in Wayne County, NY. Its varieties include the old standards Red Delicious, McIntosh, Jersey Mac, Empire and Raeburn, along with the newer rising stars, like Gala.

“We’re the largest Honeycrisp grower in the Northeast by far, and we have the eastern sales lead on SweeTango,” said co-owner Austin Fowler.

Fowler Farms also grows SnapDragon, which has “just exploded,” especially in the Southeast, according to Fowler. “We introduced it down there about three years ago and it has just doubled and doubled every year,” he said.

Fowler Farms is a fully integrated operation, meaning that it has its own nurseries, grows its own trees, packs and stores its own fruit, and even makes much of the equipment it uses to work its orchards. The company works closely with nurseries and nearby Cornell University to develop the next big apple smash. “We are looking for something that has to be exceptional,” Fowler said. “It can’t just be another Honeycrisp or Gala. It has to have attributes that set it apart.”

Growing its apples along the lakeshore protects Fowler Farms’ trees from the extreme heat that impacted much of the nation this summer.

However, although the thermometer topped 100 for several days in July it did not bake the apples on the tree, and is not expected affect the yield. “Heat has not had a major impact on the fruit because the moisture has been good,” said Mattie Lead, sales representative at Hess Bros. Fruit Co., a major apple supplier based in Lancaster, PA.

The 2019 apple crop “looks great and is on par to match last year’s numbers,” she said, pointing out that the more than 70 apple growers in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Virginia represented by Hess Bros. are expecting big increases in Gala, Honeycrisp and other newer varieties, including Evercrisp, RubyFrost and SnapDragon.

SweeTango is another one of the newer apple stars on the market. With a season kicking off in September, SweeTango is one of the earlier premium apple varieties to hit the market. In addition to its unique taste — sweet, with a lively touch of citrus, honey and spice — SweeTango also has likely the loudest “crunch” in the marketplace, coming in at 79.1 decibels during a Guinness Book of World Records match, about the same decibel range as an alarm clock or vacuum cleaner.

“The 2019 SweeTango crop is looking beautiful with plentiful apples on the way,” said Jennifer L. Parkhill, executive director of Next Big Thing, a cooperative committed apple growers selected to grow the SweeTango variety. “SweeTango is an early harvest variety which kicks off the apple season in the best possible way — early!” Parkhill said.