Island apple growers hope bumper crop will help meet growing demand
'If you're going to have a huge crop and good quality, life is good'
"This could be a stand-out crop," said Barry Balsom, co-owner of Arlington Orchards in western P.E.I. "We have a huge crop coming on and the quality is high."
Ideal weather conditions have been a relief for growers after two winters of heavy snowfall that caused damage at some orchards.
"This was a very very mild winter and trees went into winter in excellent shape," Balsom said, watching his crew thin out the apples in one of his many orchards.
Comeback year for some Island orchards
Mark Ashley, president of the P.E.I. Apple Growers Association, calls this year's crop "amazing."
"The blossom period was long, between a week-and-a-half and two weeks, which allowed for great pollination," said Ashley, who operates Wintermoor Orchard, in York, near Charlottetown.
Ashley's U-pick operation didn't even open last year after a late frost and poor pollination in the spring.
He says he's looking forward to re-opening this fall so the orchard can host school field trips that were cancelled last year.
Consumers could benefit
A bumper crop across North America may mean prices go down, said Balsom, but that should even out with higher sales.
"If the price goes down for consumers, that just means we sell more apples."
We grow a superb Honeycrisp and there's North American market demand for our product.- Barry Balsom
Balsom's operation has now expanded from a U-pick into commercial production and packaging for stores both on the Island and on the mainland.
A bumper crop will mean more Island apples in local stores, as successful "buy local" campaigns create year-round demand.
"For commercial, it means we have more to sell to stores for a longer term," said Balsom.
"We want to be in there until June or July and have the storage capacity to do that and have the crop load to support that."
Honeycrisp hot sellers
Balsom is already planning to expand his acreage to try to keep up with the demands from his commercial customers.
He already grows over 40 acres and hopes to add four to five next season, all of a variety called Honeycrisp, which he says they "can't grow enough."
"The good news is we have a bumper crop of Honeycrisp, the bad news is it's probably not enough with the consumer demand because in the northern New England states and the Maritimes in general," he said.
"We grow a superb Honeycrisp and there's North American market demand for our product."
Balsom predicts P.E.I. apples should be ready for Island customers by the middle of August.