Nature of apple harvest is a matter of location

October 04, 2000

Nature of apple harvest is a matter of location


When it came to growing apples this season, it seems that an orchard's location in the Tri-State area had a lot to do with how impressive the harvest.


Growers in Washington County report the harvest was a mixed bag, with harvesting season running a bit ahead of schedule.

Growers in West Virginia report a less-than-average season that's close to completion.

Pennsylvania growers report an average to better-than-average season with about a month of picking remaining.

Washington County orchardists report a promising Red Delicious crop and minimal freeze and hail damage. Growers expressed amazement at how their trees responded this year, given the severity of last year's drought.

"We are lucky to have anything," Bill Gardenhour, manager of Gardenhour Orchards Inc. in Smithsburg, said. He expected his overall harvest, however, to be about 25,000 bushels or 1 million pounds - half of last year's harvest, for which "the quality was unbelievable."


"With last year's dry weather it's a wonder we came back," John Rinehart, president of Rinehart Orchards on Ringgold Pike, said.

Rinehart and Gardenhour each said the harvest is about two weeks ahead of schedule in Western Maryland. Steve Lewis, manager of Lewis' Orchards in Cavetown, said picking on his 100 acres should be completed next week.

This summer's rain helped promote good sized fruit in Washington County, something Lewis said he hopes results in a good return for his crop.

"We were seeing apples in June and July of this year that were as big as the apples we picked last year," Lewis said.

Warm March temperatures hastened the growth of apple blooms in West Virginia orchards. The combination of a 22-degree April night and frost was the death blow for much of the Eastern Panhandle apple crop. Particularly hard hit were Red Delicious apples, growers said.

While the price for apples packed for retail sale remains stable, prices for juice and processing apples have continued to fall, growers said.

"Juice apples are bringing $1.60 per bushel. It costs $1 to get the apple off the tree and 60 cents to get to the processor," said Romney orchardist Gary Shanholtz. "I don't know if I will sell to processors."

The alternatives, fresh-packed apples for retail sales or direct sales at farmers markets, don't appear financially strong to Shanholtz.

With fresh packing, "the cost of boxes, packing, labor, you can't be competitive," Shanholtz said.

As for farmers markets sales, the high cost of gasoline seems to be keeping people away, he said.

That doesn't seem to be the case in Maryland or Pennsylvania, however.

"We just came off one of our biggest weekends," said Kay Hollabaugh, manager of the farm market for Hollabaugh Bros. Fruit Farms and Market of Bigerville, Pa. "Customers are just in the awe of the size, apples are 3 1/2 inches and up," she said.

Lewis also reported good weekend sales. He noted, however, people are no longer purchasing large quantities of apples for canning.

In West Virginia, the rain didn't help growers because of apple bloom loss, said Ron Slonaker, manager of the 300-acre Jefferson Orchard near Kearneysville.

The rain made it "a great season for young trees," Slonaker said.

The rain also may have contributed to the number of rotten apples this year, Gardenhour said.

Slonaker predicted he would harvest about 95,000 bushels - 3 million pounds - of apples this year, half of what he harvested last year.

Overall, West Virginia growers are expected to harvest 90 million pounds this fall, down from 145 million pounds last year. Harvest estimates for Maryland are 38 million pounds, the same as last year. Pennsylvania growers are expected to harvest 480 million pounds, a drop from 505 million pounds last year. Estimates are from the state agricultural statistical offices.

The drop in West Virginia means growers are anticipating a losing season.

With a short crop and decreased prices, "there is no way to cover expenses. It's a question of how much losses are we going to take," Slonaker said.

The result may be that the orchard continues to sell land for development, he said. In the last 10 years, Slonaker said, the farm has sold 200 acres to developers.

Tri-State growers also face competition from Washington state and China.

Pennsylvania growers can be hard hit when China, the largest producer of juice apples, floods the market with apple concentrate, said William Kleiner, regional extension fruit specialist for Franklin and Adams counties in Pennsylvania. Sixty percent of the apples grown in Pennsylvania are sold to processors.

For Franklin County, the apple harvest's value annually exceeds $5 million, according to state agricultural statistics. Adams and Franklin are the top apple-producing counties in Pennsylvania.

Washington State is expected to have a record crop this year, which could be bad news for growers who sell their apples to area packers.

"Can we compete with Washington apples? That's a good question," said Lee Showalter, owner of Five Forks Fruit, a Waynesboro, Pa., packing operation.

"They have a record crop in the Northwest and it will be stiff competition. Most retailers, however, still support local apples."

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