2011-09-15 / Local & State

Wet Spring Takes Toll On Many Pa. Apple Crops

By Jennie Geisler

ERIE, Pa. (AP) – It’s been a tough year for apple growers.

A wet spring encouraged disease, and bees that fertilize the blossoms stayed warm and dry in their hives.

“It’s not the best quality I've ever had,” said Brian Lehman, of Lehman Fruit Farm in Girard Township.

He said the flavor of the apples is good, but a disease called “apple scab” left black spots on much of the fruit.

“People won’t eat” the affected apples, said Andy Muza, extension educator at Penn State Extension Erie County. “They can, but they like them nice and smooth.”

Despite the problems, Muza said he doesn’t expect the price of good apples will change much.

“I don’t think the consumer will see it. It’s the grower that takes the hit.”

It’s hard to say what grocers will do about prices, though.

“We can’t speculate on (price) as of yet,” said Theresa Jackson, consumer-affairs manager for Wegmans on Thursday.

Price hikes or no, Jackson said she expects that apples might be hard to get this season.

“Essentially, there have been a few gaps in the supply up until now, and looking into fall, we may indeed see a decreased supply of locally grown apples in both number and variety.”

Giant Eagle and Tops did not respond to requests for comment.

Muza said apple growers can sell affected apples for juicing, but that doesn't bring nearly the price of whole apples at retail.

The problems haven't just hit Erie County. He said the problems are affecting farmers all over Pennsylvania and New York, and the wet spring didn't help other crops, either, such as strawberries and cherries.

“They’re delicate and susceptible to disease, too,” he said.

Lehman said the apple scab doesn’t affect the flavor of the apples.

“They’re still usable,” he said. “But they are discolored. They don’t look as good, and they’re not that high of a grade.”

He said his trees usually yield 4,000 bushels to sell, but he estimates he’ll get half of that this year that are disease free. “And that’s conservative,” he said.

Mike Schultz, at Arundale Farm and Cider Mill, can use the apples he culls for cider, but he’d rather sell them whole.

“That’s the majority of our business,” he said.

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