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September 6, 2017

It's shaping up to be a banner year for Maine apple growers

Photo / James McCarthy
Photo / James McCarthy
Bags of fresh-picked apples on display at Willow Pond Farm, a pick-your-own orchard in Sabattus.

Maine's 2017 apple crop is expected to rebound significantly over last year's small harvest, which was hurt by poor pollination conditions during spring and a summer-long drought in most areas of the state.

According to the New England Apple Association, citing the U.S. Apple Association's official 2017 forecast, Maine apple growers anticipate a crop of 1,024,000 boxes — or 43,008,000 pounds, based on 42 pounds per box average — an increase of 22% from a year ago and 29% above the state's five-year average.

Overall, New England's apple crop is forecast to be about 38% larger than the 2016 crop. At just over 3.9 million 42-pound boxes, New England's 2017 apple harvest is expected to be about 14% higher than the region's five-year average of 3.4 million boxes.

The harvest is well under way with early season varieties like Gravenstein, the association reported, adding that McIntosh apples were expected to be ready over the long Labor Day weekend.

Maine Department of Agriculture reported 36.3 million pounds of apples were harvested in 2016, with a total value of $17.5 million. Of those, 24.2 million pounds were sold in the fresh market with a total value of $16 million and 12.1 million pounds were sold for processing with a total value of $1.5 million.

Maine ranks No. 2 in New England

Photo / James McCarthy
Photo / James McCarthy
Apple pickers harvest apples in the orchard of Willow Pond Farm in Sabattus on a crisp fall day.

The U. S. Apple Association's official 2017 forecast for New England puts Maine in second place after Massachusetts as the top apple-growing states in the region:

  • Massachusetts forecasts 1,095,000 boxes, up 59% from 2016 and 19% above the five-year average.
  • Maine forecasts 1,024,000 boxes, up 22% from a year ago and 29% above the state's five-year average.
  • Vermont forecasts 714,000 boxes, up 12% from a year ago and 1% below the five-year average of 724,000.
  • Connecticut forecasts 595,000 boxes, up 94% from a year ago and 19% above the state's five-year average.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimates no longer include smaller apple-producing states like New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Based on the New England Apple Association's informal survey, both states are looking at good crops, with New Hampshire at about 450,000 boxes and Rhode Island about 50,000 boxes.

Orchards celebrate Maine Apple Sunday

The Maine State Pomological Society will hold the 17th annual Maine Apple Sunday on Sept. 10 with participating orchards around the state. The society says the event kicks off the apple harvest peak season, when summer apples are still available but the main crop is ready for its first pick.

"It just gets people thinking about picking some apples," said Margie Hansel, the society's corresponding secretary whose family runs the pick-your-own Hansel's Orchard in North Yarmouth. "This year we've had some cool evenings already, so it's gotten people into the mindset that 'this is fall' and it's time to pick apples. Last year, it was so warm in the fall that people went to the beach instead."

Hansel said it's looking like her family's three-acre orchard — which features McIntosh, Cortland and Macoun apples — will have a better-than-average year. She noted that this season's pollination was "fabulous" — saying that although the summer was a little dry it didn't adversely affect the crop and might have actually helped because it "kept down insects and fungi."

Hansel said apple orchards from Sanford to Caribou will celebrate Maine Apple Sunday by offering special activities and free samples of apple products.

Participating orchards (in alphabetical order):

  • Bailey's Orchard, Whitefield. Free apple squares, door prize drawings.
  • Boothby's Orchard and Winery, Livermore. Music by Lindsey Montana, free wagon rides, orchard and winery tours, sweet cider and cheese samples.
  • Hansel's Orchard, North Yarmouth. Will raffle a peck of apples and offer free samples of our favorite apple recipes.
  • Libby and Sons U-Picks, Limerick. Free live music, balloon characters, magic tricks and face painting as well as free samples of apple jam, apple salsa and apple pie smoothie (while supplies last).
  • Maine-ly Apples, Dixmont. Free hay rides, BBQ lunch prepared by the Dixmont Rescue Squad, free samples and apple picking.
  • McDougal Orchards, Sanford. Raffle tickets will be distributed to each paying customer, with drawings at the end of the day for numerous apple-related items.
  • McElwain's Strawberry Farm, Caribou. Hay rides through the orchard to the u-pick pumpkin field, apple tasting, a kid's straw bale climbing pyramid and Cinderella's Pumpkin Coach.
  • North Star Orchard, Madison. Sample ice cream with the orchard's very own special apple pie topping.
  • Pietree Orchard, Sweden. Apple samples, wagon rides, pick-your-own apples, hay maze and more.
  • Ricker Hill Orchards, Turner. Live music and food truck, pick-your-own apples and farm activities, bounce houses, corn maze and a special on carbonated sweet cider.
  • Spiller Farm, Wells. Hayrides, games and animals to view.
  • Sweetser's Apple Barrel and Orchards, Cumberland. Free apple crisp samples, heirloom apples on display.
  • The Apple Farm, Fairfield. Wagon rides, samples of our jams, jellies and other goodies.
  • Thompson's Orchard, New Gloucester.
  • Treworgy Orchard, Levant. Free hay rides, corn maze, petting zoo, pumpkin patch, café and gift shop will be open.
  • Wallingford's Fruit House, Auburn. Hard cider/ wine tasting, pick-your-own apples, corn maze, donuts and baked goods available with a special on sparkling sweet cider.

Renae Moran, tree fruit specialist for the University of Maine, said the U. S. Apple Association's 2017 positive forecast for Maine and New England sounded about right, based on her conversations with growers in the state.

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