The weather in 2011 has been hard on many of Virginia’s agricultural crops, but the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) says the outlook for the 2011 apple crop is very good. In early September, staff from VDACS’ Office of Sales and Market Development contacted growers representing the state’s major apple-growing areas and the reports are good. Growers indicated that the 2011 harvest should be normal, even if slightly off the five-year average in volume.
Apple trees experienced minimal damage from Hurricane Irene, although Tropical Storm Lee’s torrential rains delayed or interrupted the harvest for some of the earlier varieties because farmers couldn’t get into the fields. That added moisture should increase the size of varieties that are picked later, and the cooler temperatures at night will help the red-skinned apples achieve the bright red color that consumers prefer.
Growers are finished picking Ginger Golds and Galas and are actively packing and selling these varieties now. Harvest of Red and Golden Delicious is just starting in Northern Virginia; in the southwest part of the state the harvest is well underway. Harvest of Rome apples should begin in early October; York apples in early to mid-October; Winesaps, Staymans and Granny Smith apples in mid-October; and then Fujis in late October or early November. Many pick-your-own farms also offer heirloom and heritage varieties of apples.
Apples are big business in Virginia. The state boasts more than 150 commercial growers. VDACS Marketing representatives canvassed the state and determined that apples are selling very well this year, and while some growers are expecting a smaller crop, they say the quality is very good. Virginia farmers produced between 5 and 5.25 million bushels of apples last year for markets in 15 states and more than 20 countries. This year’s harvest may be slightly less, depending on the weather between now and the end of harvest.
Adding to apple’s economic importance is the agritourism factor, the festivals and events that draw Virginians and tourists alike to apple-growing regions each fall. “People go to an apple farm to pick apples for several reasons,” said Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS Commissioner, “but chief among them is that they want to buy local products. Savvy consumers realize that local means fresher and fresher means more nutritious. They like to know the farmer who comes with their food and they like to keep their dollars in the community. But they also want to have fun, and there are few better places to do that in the fall than at a pick-your-own apple farm. While on the farm, consumers can enjoy hay rides, petting zoos, pony rides and shopping. They can buy baked goods, jellies, cider, plants, pumpkins, even fall decorations. In addition, there are a host of apple festivals around the state that may or may not take place on farms, and all of these enhance the local economies.”