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Published: Thursday, 10/6/2005

Area apple crop ample, sweet, at prices slightly above last year's

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Jan Akens takes a break from her duties at Erie Orchards to pick some apples to use at home. Jan Akens takes a break from her duties at Erie Orchards to pick some apples to use at home.
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Apples are flavorful and in good supply locally this season, but prices may be higher. Nationally, the crop is likely to be smaller.

A late frost last spring thinned blossoms at Erie Orchards & Cider Mill, in Michigan, helping produce high-quality apples and eliminating the need for much mechanical thinning, said owner Steve Elzinga.

"We have a wonderful crop," said the 28-year veteran of the business. "It's one of the best ever."

The fruit, he added, is larger and sweeter because of the hot sun this summer.

But at Hideaway Orchard south of Adrian, the frost killed too many blooms, so trees of some varieties produced no apples, and the overall yield is lower than in the last four years, said owner Al Evans.

Ohio is expected to produce 2.1 million bushels this year. Ohio is expected to produce 2.1 million bushels this year.
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And the recent warm weather is causing some apples at MacQueen's Orchard in Springfield Township to ripen without color and drop from the trees. Fallen apples will be processed by juice companies.

MacQueen's started the season with its biggest crop in 10 years, said Jeff MacQueen, vice president.

"We have plenty of apples," he said. "You just hate to see them fall."

Nationwide, the apple crop is expected to be 6 percent to 8 percent smaller this year than last, when the yield was exceptionally high at 248.1 million bushels, said Shannon Schaffer, spokesman for the U.S. Apple Association in Vienna, Va.

Michigan, the nation's third-largest apple state, is expected to produce 19.5 million bushels this year, and Ohio to produce 2.1 million bushels, Mr. Schaffer said. Washington, by far the nation's largest apple-producing state, is expecting 133 million bushels.

High fuel costs for shipping and farming are expected to push apple prices up, said Monica Gordon, a spokesman for Kroger Co. She declined to discuss store prices.

Hideaway Orchard is charging the same price as last year to customers picking their own apples, which are the majority of its sales.

Erie Orchards and MacQueen's Orchard each raised prices by $1 for a half bushel or more of self-pick apples but kept prices the same in their markets.

Allen Kazmaier, owner of Kazmaier's 5-Star Markets in Perrysburg and Maumee, said apple prices are a little higher than last year.

A 3-pound bag, for example, has been as low as $1.28 at his stores, compared with 99 cents at their lowest last season, he said.

"They're a little bit more than they were last year, but they're not exorbitantly high," he said. He buys apples directly from Johnston Fruit Farms near Swanton and from local produce houses.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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