COLUMBUS, Ohio — Early bloom and favorable weather are driving apples to an early harvest.
Dick Funt, an Ohio State University Extension small fruit specialist, said that some early varieties, normally harvested in August, were plucked from the trees as early as late July. He expects later-maturing varieties that are harvested in September and Octobert to see an early harvest as well.
"Many apple varieties are coming to full maturity seven to eight days ahead of schedule. We've had an early bloom and an early ripening. There hasn't been much stress on the trees," said Funt. According to the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service, 47 percent of Ohio's early season apples have been harvested, slightly higher than last year.
"Volume and harvest look good," said Funt. "It looks like we are closing in on 80 percent to 90 percent of a full crop." Funt speculates that anywhere from 2.3 million to 3 million bushels of apples will be harvested this year, depending on weather and diseases.
Apple scab, which has hit the crop hard in some areas, is already accounting for 3 percent to 4 percent more apples being graded out for juice production. "Normally only 7 percent to 8 percent of the crop goes into juice production," said Funt. "This year we could see as much as 15 percent of the crop go into juice."
Well over 30 varieties of apples are grown in Ohio. At this point in the season, customers can expect to see such varieties as Lodi, Pristine, Ginger Gold, Grimes Golden and Gala at their local Farmer's Markets. Other popular varieties expected to be harvested later in the season include Jonathan, Ozark Gold and Golden Delicious.
Apple acreage in Ohio has been steadily declining over the past 20 years, from around 14,000 acres down to a steady 7,400 to 7,600 acres. Funt said that interest in other high-value crops, along with international competition, is a factor driving down apple production.
Researchers, however, continue to tout the health benefits of eating apples. Like other fruits, such as berries, apples contain antioxidants that may help fight off cancer. They also contain a variety of vitamins, such as vitamins A, C and E, and a soluble fiber, known as pectin, that may help lower cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease.