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New York looking at outstanding back-to-back apple seasons

As old and new apple crop seasons dovetail each other, insights from the orchard show a bright future for New York's industry. "Last year, we had an excellent crop, a full crop, one of the largest crops in history," said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association in Fishers, NY. "Pricing was OK. Quality and packouts were good. We're still selling last year's crop."

Anticipation is running high for another successful season in 2014. "This year's crop is on the tree," Allen went on to say. "Knock on wood, we had no frost damage." Allen said conditions were conducive to good pollination and tree bloom.NYApple2Gennaro Fazio, director of the apple rootstock breeding project of the ARS Plant Genetic Resources Unit in Geneva, NY, evaluates trees developed from different rootstocks in an apple rootstock breeding project. (Photo by Peggy Greb)

"The good news is the potential is excellent," he added. Taking grower input into account, Allen said this year's estimate of 32 million bushels is probably conservative, and the actual volume could range between 33 million and 34 million bushels. "We won't know until July," he noted.

New York's growers produce a broad apple manifest that includes varieties such as McIntosh, Empire, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome, Cortland and Macoun. "Honeycrisp volume continues to grow," Allen commented.

Two new varieties, the SnapDragon and RubyFrost, will be actively promoted this season. "They just really hit the marketplace last winter," Allen commented. Cornell University, in partnership with New York Apple Growers, announced these varieties last August.

SnapDragon, developed from a Honeycrisp parent, is a fall variety with a crisp texture and spicy, sweet taste. According to Cornell University, the SnapDragon has a longer shelf life than the Honeycrisp, and may give retailers a change to offer the variety for longer marketing windows.

The RubyFrost is a juicy winter variety with a crisp texture and sweet/tart taste. Cornell breeder Susan Brown believes fans of the Empire and Granny Smith varieties will put their seal of approval on the RubyFrost. Allen said the flavor of the RubyFrost continues to mature during storage.

Looking at the industry as a whole, Allen said, "Production is increasing at a very rapid rate." While acreage itself has not necessarily grown, Allen said per acre production figures are going up as older blocks are replaced with newer varieties. And high-density plantings are yielding better results per tree.

Allen provided some insights about current consumer trends. "Consumers are drawn to locally grown food," he noted, adding that there is increased interest in sustainable agriculture and reduced food miles.

"We can really reach consumers that way," he commented. The New York State apple bag sports the Pride of New York label, signifying that apples are New York-grown. "As an umbrella, it's a good mark," Allen said. Another program, Taste NY, gives consumers a change to find out more about fresh items such as apples and value-added items such as apple cider.

Another innovative trend which is catching fire in New York is online grocery shopping. The company FreshDirect delivers grocery store items directly to consumers' doors every day. "FreshDirect is a retailer without brick and mortar," Allen stated. The company has been in business for 15 years.

The benefits of the program are easily apparent. "In New York, it's hard to shop," Allen explained. "When you're in a cab or in the subway it's hard to shop."

The FreshDirect website gives consumers a heads-up on items in their peak using a star system.

"It's a great concept," Allen continued, adding that new apartment buildings in New York and Philadelphia are actually accommodating the program and even providing lockers for residents who may not be at home at the time of delivery.

Digital couponing is another big hit, and Allen said card swipes at retail checkout provide consumers with instant coupon opportunities.

The New York Apple Association uses a full toolbox to market product. Broadcast media continue to open avenues of visibility among consumers. "We always use nutrition and health in our messaging," Allen added. The association also works with school foodservice operations to move healthy apples into the hands of children.

The association's website, www.nyapplecountry.com, is being redesigned. "We anticipate going live no later than July 1," Allen said. "It will be cutting edge and interactive."