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Eastern apples see strong spring bloom

While many regions of the U.S. experienced Mother Nature’s wintry whipsaws with record-setting cold snaps, heavy snow storms and freezing rains, the Northeast is emerging from a long winter with conditions favorable to producing a strong start for the new apple season.

Brett Baker, corporate vice president and co-owner of United Apple Sales and a third-generation apple grower in western New York, indicated that they experienced a traditional Northeastern winter.

“Some regions of the country were blindsided by catastrophic conditions this past winter but we were fortunate to have an overall good season with temperatures slightly above average and snow fall within the normal range of 70 to 75 inches. There was consistently cold weather in January and February but there was no winter injury caused by severe swings in temperature," Baker said.

“Of course, you never take anything for granted.  On April 22, we had three inches of snow that covered cherry blossoms," said Baker. "Apples were still in the tight cluster stage without blossoms at the time and were not affected. The weather returned to seasonal temps in the mid-50s and there was no real damage. But it is just a reminder that we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves this early in the season.”

Justin Whipple, United Apple’s procurement and operations manager, commented that they are now in the orchards assessing soil conditions and possible damage from April frost events. Fortunately, there was no winter damage and the trees are in full bloom and coming into the season in great shape by producing plenty of healthy and hearty fruitlets.

“With warm weather arriving, we are already seeing a significant increase in bee activity, which is always an encouraging sign.  By late May, the crop will set and we will have the drop in mid-June, when we will have an initial indication of the potential volume and preliminary harvest schedule.  We have a long season ahead of us but we are poised for a great start to the season,” said Whipple.  

Based on last year’s strong harvest, United Apple anticipates traditional eastern varieties of MacIntosh and Cortland as well as mainline varietals of Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp and Red Delicious will be in good supply.  United’s club varieties — EverCrisp, RubyFrost and SnapDragon — which are seeing increased demand as consumers are introduced to the new apples, will see a larger volume as young trees are maturing and producing more fruit.

Baker indicated that United’s eastern cherry orchards are also benefiting from the strong spring bloom and are well on their way to producing a great start for its program featuring Cavalier, Hartland, Lapins, Royalton, Sam’s and Ulsters.

Retail Partnerships Impact on Orchard Management
Baker said the traditional supply model, where apple growers and packers simply inform retailers of the availability schedule, volume of fruit and breaks on size and fruit color, has been changing. The fresh produce marketplace has become more complex as the relationship between retailers and consumers is taking on a new dimension. Information about preferences is free flowing with social media and other communications platforms and retailers are trying to keep pace with consumer demands and market trends.  

A good example of consumers impacting retail decisions was seen during the pandemic as customers shied away from bulk/individual apple sales and opted for packaged product due to concerns about food safety and excessive handling.

“We work proactively with our retail partners on merchandising and promotions to give them tools to meet their consumers’ preferences. Retailer input can have an impact on how we work with growers to review the state of their orchards and adjust orchard management,” said Baker.

“This 360-degree perspective gives us opportunities to proactively work ahead and manage elements within our control," said Baker. "We can fine tune production with thinning of trees on certain varieties to affect the sizing of fruit to maximize production and generate the packs that are best suited for individual retail programs.  The days of presenting a manifest without considerations for market preferences is no longer a viable solution for meeting demands or leveraging a crop.

“Our collaborative approach between growers and retailers creates a partnership where there is input and ownership in developing a winning strategy to grow the apple category, which benefits all of us,” said Baker.

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