New York, a key apple-production area since colonial days, could slip below Michigan this year to become the No. 3 producer of apples.
Once No. 1 in apple production, New York has for decades been second to Washington state.
However, it may lose that coveted No. 2 rank to Michigan, says James Allen, president of the New York Apple Association.
New York and Michigan had bumper harvests in 2013. Both states’ 2012 crops were devastated by spring freezes.
Discounting 2012 as an anomaly, New York has averaged 29.5 million boxes of apples annually over the past five years and may top 32 million for 2013, Allen said. Michigan is typically around 24 million boxes but expects to be above 30 million this season.
That’s fresh market and apples processed for juice, cider, slicing and baking. Washington’s total is about 133 million boxes.
Final numbers won’t be known until a USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service report in June or July, but so far storage and shipment numbers show Michigan ahead of New York, Allen said. Michigan led New York in shipments for 10 out of 14 weeks in the fall, he said.
“Michigan was the No. 2 producer back in 1995. Since 2012, the Michigan industry has been speculating on how big our crops could get,” said Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee. With increased acreage, Michigan could hit 35 million to 40 million boxes in the future, she said.
USDA Market News Service shows Michigan shipped 4.1 million bushels of fresh apples season-to-date as of Dec. 23 compared with 3.9 million for New York and 38.2 million for Washington, Allen said.
The U.S. Apple Association shows fresh and processed apple holdings of 13.4 million bushels in Michigan on Dec. 1 compared with 11.1 million in New York and 111.7 million in Washington.
Counting apples isn’t as easy in New York and Michigan as it is in Washington, Allen said. Washington has mandatory state inspection and counting of every box of fresh apples shipped from packers, he said. There is no such requirement in New York and Michigan, where shippers voluntarily report numbers, he said.
“A lot of fruit goes directly to consumers and farmers’ markets all over the East Coast without being packed and not all of it is counted,” he said.
The final USDA number is used as the best available measure for New York, whereas industry numbers in Washington are regarded as accurate, he said.
That New York is apparently slipping to No. 3 isn’t exactly easy for Allen and growers in New York.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been lower than No. 2 and probably were No. 1 at one time before they learned how to plant apple trees in Washington,” he said.
He noted New York has a storied history in apples that goes back to Gov. Peter Stuyvesant planting an apple tree from Holland at the corner of Third Avenue and 13th Street in New York City in 1647.
Colonists grew apples and land companies required settlers to plant apple orchards on their land claims.
“There was a time every farm in the state grew apples for juice and cider,” Allen said. “Water wasn’t as good. Every dairy had apples.”
Stuyvesant’s first tree was knocked down in 1866, according to an association history.
In 1896, New York had a record crop of 54 million bushels. Propagation of new varieties abounded in ensuing years.
Commercial apple production began in Washington in the 1890s and took off in the 1920s.