By Polly Lynn
If you’ve seen an apple tree lately, you’d know this was a good year for the state’s largest fruit crop as each tree struggles to hold up the weight of hundreds apples.
“We’re looking at one of the best crops in years — possibly topping one million bushels,” said Steve Justis, executive director of the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association. “We had heavy rain early in the season, but the honeybees stepped up to provide excellent pollination and fruit set. The rest of the summer has given us excellent growing conditions.”
Apples are the largest fruit crop in Vermont, contributing $12 to $15 million to the state’s economy each year. Vermonters themselves eat about 250,000 bushels of apples per year, or about 16 to 17 pounds per person, according to a UVM study, and between 60 and 70 percent of Vermont apples are sold wholesale, with approximately 30 percent of the crop sold in Vermont.
In 1999, the Vermont Legislature designated the apple as the state fruit, and the apple pie as the state pie.
Vermont has nearly 4,000 acres of commercial apple orchards, which produce leading apple varieties, including: McIntosh, Cortland, Red Delicious and Empire.
This year many Vermont orchards have avoided weather and pests that have hurt production in previous years, Justis explained. Specifically, the past couple of years cold weather has caused damage leading into the season, he said.
Vermont apple prices depend largely on the state of Washington, which accounts for more than 50 percent of the country’s total apple production, followed by New York state, which accounts for nearly 10 percent. Vermont shares the rest of the market with 29 other apple producing states.
This year Washington orchards are predicting a drop in numbers this year because of heat damage. “Early indications are that they’re going to have a 10 percent short-crop,” said Justis. “That is good news for the Vermont apple growers.”
The New York Apple Association is also forecasting their 2015 apple crop to be slightly below their five year average of 29.5 million bushels. However, association leaders say it won’t affect the overall outlook.
Apples to iPods
In preparation for a banner year, Vermont’s pick-your-own orchards are once again offering a chance to win an Apple product during the ninth annual “Apples to iPods” promotion that kicked off Monday, Sept. 14.
“Our growers really love the Apples to iPods program,” said Justis, adding that the annual Apples to iPods contest has been an effective promotion for Vermont’s apple industry. “For the past several years, the program has encouraged families—especially teens — to visit, explore and pick apples.”
In this technology-meets-agriculture contest, one specially-marked wooden apple is hidden in an apple tree at 24 Vermont pick-your-own apple orchards, including Mendon Mountain Orchard in Mendon, Vt. The lucky apple picker who finds a wooden apple wins a randomly selected Apple iPod, iPod Shuffle or iPad. The State of Vermont first launched this promotion in 2007 to encourage people to visit Vermont’s pick-your-own orchards.
“Apple picking is a family tradition. In true Vermont fashion, the Apples to iPods contest makes this fall event even more fun for families,” said Megan Smith, Commissioner for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. “Visiting an orchard is the perfect way to experience Vermont’s gorgeous autumn landscape and participate in a festive and family-friendly activity.”
For a list of participating orchards, please visit www.applestoipods.com
Pick for your neighbor
The state also encourages folks to “Pick for Your Neighbor.” Individuals, families, civic, school and corporate groups are invited to visit a participating orchards to pick and purchase extra apples to donate to the Vermont Foodbank. Since 2009, the Pick for Your Neighbor program has made nearly 63,500 pounds of apples available to Vermonters in need.
“Pick for Your Neighbor is a win for all involved,” said Michelle Wallace, director of Community Health and Fresh Food Initiatives at the Vermont Foodbank. “Orchards see an economic benefit from increased sales; the foodbank has access to fresh, local apples for distribution; and participants experience a great Vermont tradition while helping their neighbors in need.”