ASHVILLE - The apple a day that keeps the doctor away is going to cost a little bit more than usual this fall.
"The problems that we're presented with in regard to (apple prices) started with a mild winter last year," said Wade Morse, owner of Whittier Apple Farm. "Following, in March, there were four days that pushed 80 degrees really hard, and what that did was pushed out all the buds prematurely. As a consequence of that, April was very mild, and most of the fruit trees were in full bloom by April 20. We had abnormally cool weather from April 20-26. The temperatures were in the low 20s around Lake Ontario for four consecutive nights, which is absolutely unheard of for that region during that time. In a full bloom, if you go below 28 degrees, you're going to lose a lot of your crop. Consequently, they lost 80 to 90 percent of their crop along the fruit belt. Unfortunately, because so many growers lost so much of their crop, we're going to be paying for it now."
Granted, in the age of transportation, a bad crop in one part of the county will usually not cause a dramatic spike in price for a product. However, according to Morse, the rest of the country's apple crop fared poorly as well.
"New York wasn't the only state that was hit hard," said Morse. "Southern Michigan lost about the same as New York 80 to 90 percent. Northern Michigan fared a little bit better, but they didn't get the 70 to 80 degree weather at the end of March like we did. North Carolina isn't a real big producer of apples, but the state lost around 1 million bushels of apples. New Jersey and eastern New York didn't really get the freeze we did, but they experienced a draught. They've got apples, but they're very small, due to the lack of water. The only state that had a really good crop this year was Washington, however I've heard the state lost about 20 percent of its crop to hail damage. Those apples will be used for processing, but it puts some stress on what is available for fresh fruit."
In total, Morse said that a fair estimation for how much of the apple crop the country lost in total would be somewhere around 20 percent. He acknowledged that 20 percent may not seem that significant, however according to Morse, 20 percent is all that is needed to push up the price of apples this fall.
"If you go into Wegmans this winter, you're going to find that most apples are pushing $2 a pound," said Morse. "Some apples, like honeycrisp, are $3.69 per pound, which is around $170 per bushel. That's the reason we don't carry them, because it is just out of the range of what people are willing to pay."
Morse explained that apples are usually graded on a three-step scale. The lowest grade of apples are juice apples, followed by processing apples, and finally fresh apples.
"Juice apples are usually available for $60 to $80 per bin," said Morse. "Processing apples are usually available for $120 to $140 per bin. However, this year, they're going for about $250 to $300 per bin. Finally, the fresh fruit, what you see on the shelves, are starting at around $400 per bin and can even go up to $1,000 per bin. On honeycrisp apples, we've heard anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 per bin. It's like nothing I've ever heard of before. I guess this is the worst crop since 1945."
Morse said it is his intentions to cease business on Whittier Apple Farm early this year due to the lack of product. Normally the farm will stay open until around Christmas time, however Morse believes he will pack up around Thanksgiving instead.
If there is one silver lining to be pointed out about this year's apple selection, Morse believes it is that demand for apples have not declined due to the unusually high prices.
"Most of our customer base is probably within a 10-to-15-mile radius of the farm," said Morse. "I think there is a little bit of sticker shock around here, but we're actually getting a lot of people from out of town. Believe it or not, even though prices around here are high, our prices are lower than most of the surrounding area. I can't really explain why that is the case, but it seems like the price of apples around this area is always lower than the surrounding areas. We've had more people from Erie, Pa. come to the farm this year than ever before."