October is usually a prime month for apple picking, but because of wacky weather this spring most of Virginia’s apples are already off the trees.
The upside is that “as far as Central Virginia goes, it was a good year for apples, and most everyone has a full crop,” said Scott Barnes, owner of Morris Orchards in Amherst County. “And the apples have a better flavor this year.
“A lot of pick-your-own operations may be over, but farm stands and farmers’ markets will have plenty of apples through Thanksgiving,” Barnes said. Most apple growers have cold storage, and apples can be kept fresh for as long as three months.
Virginia’s apple growers saw unseasonably warm temperatures in February and March, which led to early bloom on the trees, said Dr. Gregory Peck, a Virginia Cooperative Extension tree fruit specialist. “The early bloom meant that the tree fruit crops were harvested 10 to 14 days earlier than usual, but this did not seem to be a major problem since crop losses in other states meant that fruit was in high demand.”
Although Michigan, New York and North Carolina apple producers had crops ruined by spring freezes, the U.S. Apple Association crop forecast predicts little change in the nation’s 2012 apple crop compared to the past five years. Virginia yields won’t be reported for several more months, Peck said.
“From my conversations with growers, I would say that most (Virginia) growers were happy with the yields, quality and prices they’ve received this year.”
Barnes is one of those producers. He grew Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, Red and Golden Delicious and Rome varieties, as well as heirloom apples, including Albemarle Pippin, Arkansas Black and Russet. Fuji apples were his top seller.
“Fuji apples have gained popularity even though they’re not a new variety,” Barnes said. “They are sweet and juicy and have a lot of crunch.”
He added that the heirloom varieties are making a comeback as well.
Apples are an important part of Virginia’s agricultural industry. More than 5 million bushels are produced each year, according to the Virginia Apple Growers Association. Virginia apple sales contribute an estimated $235 million annually to the state’s economy.
Virginia’s predominant apple region is in the northern Shenandoah Valley through the Roanoke Valley, Albemarle and Rappahannock counties and the southwest counties of Patrick and Carroll.