COLUMBUS, Ohio - The growing season's dry weather may have hurt some crops, like corn and soybeans, but has done wonders for Ohio's apples.
The drought may have been a factor in reduced apple production (80 million pounds as of Oct. 1 compared to 103 million pounds last year), but has produced a crop of exceptional quality and taste - driving up demand as well as the commodity price.
"Dry weather cut down on fungal diseases, so the quality of the apples are good. And the taste is just exceptional. The fruit is much sweeter tasting," said Tom Sachs, executive director of the Ohio Fruit Growers Society. "So the result is strong demand from consumers and little bit more in the pockets of producers." According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ohio apple growers were getting 33 cents per pound in September, three cents higher than the U.S. average and four to eight cents higher than other major apple-producing states like New York, Washington and Michigan.
That's good news for an industry that has seen declines in planted acres and production and has only been averaging 23 cents per pound over the past decade, said Dick Funt, an Ohio State University Extension small fruit specialist.
"The market is strong in Ohio because 60 to 70 percent of apples produced are for the fresh market, whereas other states like Pennsylvania and Michigan produce the bulk of their apples for processing, which fetches a lower price," said Funt. "However, it's still good to see growers generating a bit of a profit. We like to see growers get 28 to 29 cents a pound for their apples. You can hardly produce apples and get them in boxes for market at 21 cents a pound." One impact drought has on apple production is that the dry weather generates smaller fruit size, which has hurt some states like Washington and Michigan. However, said Funt, the smaller apples mean a smaller area of concentrated sugars. The result is a sweeter fruit that keeps consumers coming back for more.
"During Farm Science Review in September, the Ohio Farm Bureau gave out 30 to 40 percent more apples to visitors than normal simply because consumers loved the way the apples tasted," said Sachs.
Funt said that the majority of Ohio's 10-12 apple varieties are enjoying the sweet success of the season's warm, dry weather, with southern Ohio generating the most profitable yields.
According to the USDA, Ohio is ranked 11th in the nation in apple production. Production was valued at $23.7 million in 2001.