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Apple Acres projects strong apple season

appleacres22 For more than five decades, Apple Acres has been operating out of Central New York’s famed “Apple Valley,” growing, packing, and shipping apples throughout the state.

The orchard operations are still run by company founder 87-year-old Walt Blackler, whose family — daughter Katie and son-in-law Derek Raymond — is charged with key aspects of the operations and packing house.

Because the company opened a new facility last fall, the staff was better able to spread out once COVID hit and new safety measures had to be put in place.

“We basically built to double our production, with higher ceilings and more space on the floor, so that helped us spread out,” said David Williams, vice president of sales and marketing for the LaFayette, NY-based company. “Overall, the impact has been minimal because we were past harvest when it happened, so we didn’t have that complication.”

Apple Acres did go through a bit of mitigation to alleviate as much possibility of infection as possible and came through it really well, with no incidents of infection or any problems.

“We did put quite a few things in place within the pack house to help that, including rotating people on shifts, wearing masks, and taking temperatures when people came in,” Williams said. “Going forward, it might be more of a challenge. We bought a farm about two years ago just south of where we are, and along with it was a home on the property. As a result of having to have more room for our harvest workers, we are in the process of refurbishing that so when the workers come in, we’ll have more space to house them.”

Early estimates of the 2020 apple crop are coming in strong from its 30-plus growers, plus what it’s seeing in its orchard.

“It’s looking like a really good crop,” Williams said. “We saw some of the same issues that other growers had up and down the East Coast with cold temperatures back in April and May. But we grow within two different regions within our own orchard. The lower spot where the pack house is and then we go up about 1,500 feet up a hill, which helps mitigate any potential issues with frost.”

Several varieties that took last year off seem to be back on track for this season, such as Empires, which were down last year but have more than an ample crop in 2020.

“The crop is looking clean,” Williams said. “We did have some issues with dryness up until a few weeks ago. We were able to mitigate that with irrigating, but Mother Nature has been really good lately, and that’s helped us and put us in a good position to see bigger fruit size and higher brix levels.”

The company has also seen a nice increase in its tote bag business, and has added some additional equipment to handle that better.

The flavor of the company’s apples, which are glacier-formed in the hills, is what separates the Eastern apples from others. That’s why Apples Acres continues to find success year after year.

“With the apple business, it’s a constant challenge to figure out what each year brings, so we’re always refining what the customer is looking for vs. what we have,” Williams said. “Every year is on until itself. This year, it’s looking like the fruit will be a little bit bigger, which fits nicely into what our customers are looking for. We do have a fairly good size bag business, which with COVID has taken on some new importance.”

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