After a generally cool and rainy growing season, the Pennsylvania apple season is moving along well. Projections indicate a slightly lower yield this year, however growers are reporting a good mix of sizing as well as good quality with minimal problems. Particularly pleasing to growers is the color of the apples this year which they attribute to the cooler temperatures.
"We have had cooler weather throughout the year, and plenty of rain," shared Brenda Briggs of Rice Fruit Company in Adams County, Pennsylvania. "Our harvest dates are timing about ten days later than last year. We are currently harvesting a bit below projections, but the cooler weather and moisture have also promoted a good mix of sizes, nice color and most importantly, the terrific flavor of apples grown in our part of the country."
Gala apple harvest
Pennsylvania a "unique apple growing region"
While much smaller than the apple industries in Washington, Pennsylvania is unique as an apple growing region, Briggs said. Its historical links to growing produce span from the 1700s and growers within the state as well as neighboring states are a tight-knit group, with that history in mind.
"Most of our growers are within a 50-mile radius of Rice Fruit Company in Gardners, PA.," Briggs noted. "Many of the farm families whose fruit we pack and market have a similar history and have been a key part of our success for generations, and we are proud to be a part of that heritage. We also work with growers in neighboring states, with a similar heritage, to provide a diverse product mix of premium Eastern apples for our customers."
Briggs added that the geography of the landscape also provides another factor in what Pennsylvania offers in terms of apple growing. "The landscape of south-central Pennsylvania is ideal for growing apples, with rolling hills and plenty of rain and sunshine," she said. "Here in Adams County, our orchards are nestled at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, and are not only pretty to look at throughout the year, but also provide important protection from threats such as hail and frost."
Mid-point in season
October marks the mid-way point of the harvest season, with some varieties finished and others still to be picked. For Rice Fruit Company, Honeycrisp, Ginger Gold and Gala opened the harvest in mid-August and picking on these has finished now. Next up were early local CrimsonCrisp, Fujis, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious before the branded KIKU® apple began.
"Our first to market Premier Honeycrisp and Gala started mid-August, transitioning into regular season Honeycrisp just after Labor Day," Briggs recalled. "September brought CrimsonCrisp, a newer regional variety we ship into select markets. Now into October, we are in full swing with Fuji, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith. Our KIKU® brand apples have been a strong-featured variety, and a great choice for super sweet apple fans throughout the winter months."
Referring to the previous mention of cooler weather affecting fruit color, Briggs said that Honeycrisp color was exceptionally strong. "We had a very strong start with our Premier Honeycrisp this year with quite possibly the best color we have seen on the Premiers thus far."
Local regional interest showing strength
At first glance, market factors outside of the Pennsylvania region look to present a great challenge to apple growers there. A huge Washington industry as well as Chinese tariffs on US produce are two of the major potential hurdles for Pennsylvania apple growers. However, they are feeling positive for the season, largely thanks to strong interest from the Northeast area for locally grown apples.
"Given the current concerns surrounding the export market, it is hard to say how this year’s apple market will unfold," Briggs observed. "There is excitement and strong support from our customers for regionally grown apples, with today’s consumers ever vigilant in making their voice heard when it comes demanding food from their region. Our product is well known for delivering premium, delicious apples that satisfy and our apples can be found at many grocery retailers along the East Coast."
Recently, the company introduced a 4-count apple snack box. Introduced just a few months ago, Briggs said the box is designed for consumers who would enjoy an apple in a convenience package. "The 4-count box is still in its introductory stage with the final prototype finished just a few months ago," she said. "We are eager to develop this pack to health conscious snackers who are on-the-go. Retailers have expressed a need for an apple pack that is stackable and convenient and we think the 4-count box delivers on both."
New 4-count apple box.