NEW ENGLAND APPLE GROWERS FEEL A CHILL

AMHERST, Mass. (FNS) -- Apple growers in New England expect the overall 1998 harvest to be down 20%, due to a range of weather-related problems that have adversely affected this fall's crop, while their counterparts in Michigan and Washington are experiencing heavy harvests, according to apple growers associations in those states.Still, New England apple growers expect there to be an adequate supply

AMHERST, Mass. (FNS) -- Apple growers in New England expect the overall 1998 harvest to be down 20%, due to a range of weather-related problems that have adversely affected this fall's crop, while their counterparts in Michigan and Washington are experiencing heavy harvests, according to apple growers associations in those states.

Still, New England apple growers expect there to be an adequate supply this season, with "excellent" size and quality.

"There will be plenty of apples through the fall and into the holidays," said Russell Power, executive director for the New England McIntosh Growers Association here. "Next spring, however, will bring some shortages. Last year growers were packing into June. This year there isn't the crop to support that."

Growers in the region reported wide fluctuations from state to state. While some growers experienced normal or above-average crops, others saw a smaller harvest due to damage from frost, hail and poor pollination.

A lengthy stretch of cloudy, rainy weather during the key pollination season is to blame for this year's smaller crop in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. McIntosh crops were especially hard hit.

This variety alone comprises nearly two-thirds of the New England crop. Other varieties include Cortland, Eastern Red Delicious and Empire.

Elsewhere, Michigan growers expect to pull in nearly 26 million bushels, above average in volume and quality, said officials with the DeWitt, Mich.-based Michigan Apple Committee.

Growers in the state set a record in 1995, when 29 million bushels were picked. Officials with the MAC believe better farming techniques and orchard management will enable Michigan to turn out some 30 million bushels early in the next century.

By comparison, total apple production in New England over the past three years has averaged about 5.6 million bushels. This year's estimate hovers at just over 4.7 million bushels.

"The McIntosh crop was hit the hardest," said Powell, noting that the fickle season in New England created different growing conditions in increments as small as 20 miles. "It has been a difficult thing for growers to get a fix on."

While the crop in the East has been negatively affected, the weather this growing season has resulted in a bumper crop in Washington state, the apple growing center in that region of the country.

There, the 1998 crop is expected to reach a record 103 million bushels, up from 80 million in 1997, according to the Washington Apple Commission, Wenatchee, Wash. Combined with falling exports due to the Asian economic crisis, growers in the state are looking to boost domestic consumption through inevitable lower prices and a strong, retailer-focused marketing program.

"Due to the Washington state surplus, there may be difficulties in moving apples this year, so a short crop may not be such bad news," said Powell.