Numerous weather events may make for a slightly smaller Pennsylvania apple crop this fall.
“In April we had some warm temperatures and we thought we were going to have an early crop. Then it got cold and we had a little bit of frost damage,” says Brenda Briggs of Rice Fruit Co. in Gardners, PA., who notes that this fall marks Rice Fruit’s 108th season. “It impacted mostly Red Delicious, Ginger Golds and Golden Delicious apples.”
Following that, bloom took place and temperatures stayed cool. “Normally pollinating takes about two to three days and instead it lasted two to three weeks. That slowed the crop down a little bit and now we’re on track for normal timing,” says Briggs.
That timing is looking at starting with Honeycrisp apples in the third week of August and thereafter, Royal Galas. “Outside of the Red Delicious and the Gold varieties, the other varieties are very close to where we would have been last year,” says Briggs, who adds that Rice Fruit receives apples from over 30 grower families, most of which are located within 40 miles of its plant. “I think overall volume will be down a little bit from last year but not significantly so. There’s still a nice volume of fruit out there on the trees.”
Brenda Briggs, VP Sales and Marketing and Ben Rice, President
Photo credit: Valerie M. Ramsburg
New way of work
A manageable crop is likely welcome given the new world of business all growers and shippers throughout North America are facing. “COVID definitely changed how we work at our facility,” says Briggs. “I think we’ll run at a slightly slower pace because we have this different world in which we operate.”
Along with health practices such as conducting daily health checks, outfitting employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) and enforcing new hygiene practices like increased handwashing, physical distancing has also been put in place.
“I think we’ll continue to run the packing line the way we’re running it now which is with people spread out and taking staggered breaks, etc. to manage new protocols,” says Briggs. “But we think the fall will still be different. It will be a much heavier pace than we have in the spring. We’ll be receiving fruit from the orchards and growers will be operating under these conditions so there are many unknowns. That said, we’ve also learned a lot in the past four months that will help us be nimble during our peak season.”
New packaging coming
Other changes coming in the fall include updating and developing bags and pouches thanks, in part, to an increasing interest in packaged product from consumers. After all, in the spring Rice Fruit saw that there was high demand for core heavy-volume items such as Honeycrisp, Royal Gala, Fuji and Red Delicious varieties. “And the new and upcoming varieties that have less volume fell off the shelf because retailers need to make adjustments to handle their business,” says Briggs.
In order to meet that greater packaged product interest, Briggs notes that its further developing its tractor-themed premium petite pouch bag and making a poly bag for example that’s versatile enough to be used for a two or three lb. bag.