Fresh apple market picking up for growers

Via Virginia Farm Bureau

Fall is traditionally apple season in Virginia, and many more Virginia-grown apples are now being sold directly to consumers instead of to processing plants for juice and sauce.

Experts believe the local foods movement has boosted sales of apples right from the orchard.

“There’s a big shift happening, and that’s away from processing to fresh market apples. These would be the varieties that we’re used to seeing in the supermarket,” said Dr. Greg Peck, a Virginia Tech assistant professor of horticulture. ”Varieties like Gala, Fuji and now Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious and those varieties that are more typically sold for fresh consumption” are becoming more popular with growers, he said. “Those apple varieties tend to command a higher price back to the growers than the processing varieties, and so that’s why that’s happening.”

Fresh market summer varieties include Ginger Gold, Lodi, Pristine and Rambo, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Apples are raised on 733 farms in the Old Dominion, on 11,929 acres. They accounted for about $31 million in cash receipts for growers in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition to being sold for eating and processing, more Virginia apples are being consumed in liquid form.

“The cider market is exploding around the country, on the East Coast here too,” said Diane Kearns, co-owner of Winchester Cider Works. “I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I’m going to say that three years ago there might have been four different cideries in Virginia and now they’re popping up all over the place. The large beer brewers have gotten into the market too. So yeah, hard cider is here to stay, I think.”

With 3,000 acres of apples, Kearns’ family orchard, Fruit Hill Orchard, supplies 99 percent of the fruit going into her company’s signature hard cider, named Malice.

Many parts of Virginia, including the Northern Shenandoah Valley, have ideal apple-growing conditions. Limestone soil, good elevation and lots of light provide great growing conditions, according to John Marker. His family has been raising apples in the valley for 75 years at Marker Miller Orchards.

“Probably 60 percent of our apples still go to processing. The other 40 percent is sold either in bulk or wholesale to other orchards. We also grade apples and supply a lot of fruit stands between here and Northern Virginia,” Marker said. The pick-your-own season at his orchard starts the first week of August and continues through the end of October.

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