US: Apple crop unpredictable this year in NJ

Workers at Pinelands Farms are busy picking what owner Judee DeFiccio says is a resurgent crop of apples.

After picking only about 800 bushels of the fruit last year, the Hammonton farm is back to producing its average crop of about 2,000 bushels on its 20 acres dedicated to apple growing.

“This is turning out to be a good apple crop,” DeFiccio said.

But just a few miles away in Mays Landing, the yield at Bill Boerner’s Pleasant Valley Farm is down. This year’s harvest should be around 1,800 bushels, about 700 bushels less than the average.

“Frost (in the spring) might have gotten some of it,” said Boerner, who grows apples on about 10 acres of his farm. “The bloom wasn’t the greatest. Maybe the apple trees needed a break. They can’t produce 100 percent every year.”

The situation at the two farms is typical of what is happening at New Jersey’s apple farms this year: an earlier harvest with what the New Jersey Farm Bureau reports as “spot shortages” of the fruit.

Meanwhile, government and industry organizations report New Jersey’s apple crop is in its second year of decline, something growers attribute to everything from a hot and dry summer to the fruit-damaging stink bug to a decreasing number of apple farms.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Apple Association estimate New Jersey’s apple crop — which traditionally ranks about 13th in the country — at 833,000 bushels for this year. That’s about 3 percent less than what was grown last year, and a 15 percent decline from the 986,000 bushels of apples the state averaged over a five-year period ending in 2011.

Additionally, 2012 will be the second year in a row that apple production in New Jersey won’t break the 1 million bushel mark. USDA statistics show the state surpassed that mark in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. A bushel of apples weighs 42 pounds.

The situation could be worse: The USDA estimates the nation’s apple crop will decrease about 14 percent this year from the 224.2 million bushels that were grown in 2011.


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