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Why The Iconic New England Apple Crop Fell A Little Bit In 2018

New England’s apple crop this year is slightly behind last year’s. The New England Apple Association says the crop is down about ten percent from 2017. 

Spokesman Russell Powell says apple production was up slightly in Massachusetts and Maine, but down in Connecticut and Vermont.

Russell Powell, New England Apple Association: We have so many microclimates in New England that while much of the region -- certainly here in Massachusetts -- had plenty of rain, some places did not.

Parts of Vermont experienced mild drought conditions. So their crop is smaller in part due to lack of water.

In Connecticut, it was a variety of factors. In some cases, the pollination was not as strong in the spring as normal. There were some instances of what's called June drop, where the trees shed excess apples, and it was heavier than usual. But overall, we did seem to have adequate rain. There was very little frost, very few reports of hail. So generally speaking, weather wise, this was a pretty good year.

Kari Njiiri, NEPR: What about pests? How do they impact the crop?

It hasn't been too bad a year for pests. It's something that we are continually dealing with here in the Northeast, and every grower -- not just of apples, but of every fruit and vegetable -- practices some form of integrated pest management, which is using a series of natural and biological controls to reduce reliance on pesticides.

We are worried in the future about something called the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, which has affected the mid-Atlantic states, and is slowly working its way north. It has appeared in New England, but has not been a big factor in the apple crop to date.

What about rodents?

We have heard surprisingly, this year, that there's awhopping squirrel population out there. They are actually doing a fair amount of damage. I'd say overall, they're still more of a nuisance than anything else, but it's a bigger nuisance than usual. I'm not sure what the factors are, but we've got far too many squirrels.

Do apples continue to be a tourism draw in New England?

Very definitely, very definitely. The only thing is that when we have had so much hot weather in late August and early September, it keeps people away from the apple orchard. People still associate apples with the fall and Labor Day.

As the temperatures get warmer with climate change, the crop is ripening a little bit earlier, it seems. And that's a challenge that the apple growers here face -- to try and get people out to the orchards early in the season, beginning in mid- to late August.

How many varieties of apples are in New England?

We grow 30 to 40 varieties of apples on a commercial basis, and we have easily more than 100 when you count in all of the heirlooms and niche varieties that may be grown by only a handful of orchards.

Any particular variety that is most popular?

McIntosh continues to be the leader in New England, accounting for well over half the crop. Cortland, Macoun, Empire are other big varieties here. And then we're seeing newer ones like Gala and Honeycrisp, and they're being planted more and more. But really, McIntosh has dominated the New England crop since the early 1930s.

How should apples be stored?

If you want your apples to stay crisp, they need to be kept cold. They look beautiful in a bowl on the counter, and they're easy to grab as a snack when you're walking by. But at night, you should put them back in the refrigerator.

Kari Njiiri is a senior reporter and longtime host and producer of "Jazz Safari," a musical journey through the jazz world and beyond, broadcast Saturday nights on NEPM Radio. He's also the local host of NPR’s "All Things Considered."
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