Autumn is coming, and with it comes cooler weather, shorter days, and the triumphant return of all things football! Most years, it also brings a harvest full of red delicious, sweet honeycrisps, and other apple varieties to your local orchard or grocery store. But thanks to some unseasonal weather earlier this year, consumers may be doing less bobbing for apples…and more fighting over them.
While many people enjoyed a winter largely without snow-shoveling, snow-blowing and frankly without much snow in general, the mild weather turned out to be a curse for many apple growers. An early spring with high temperatures caused trees to produce blossoms early, and made them particularly vulnerable to frost conditions that struck in late spring.
Those late cold snaps, coupled with the summer droughts that ravaged much of the Midwest, were enough to spell disaster for some of the nation's top apple-producing states. Michigan, which already experienced a horrible cherry season for many of the same reasons (2% of normal production from the top cherry producer in the nation) expects only 10% of its normal apple yield, the worst crop loss in over 70 years. New York, North Carolina, and Indiana were also hard-hit, with Indiana losing an estimated 60-70% of its crop this year.
Because of these low yields, consumers will most likely have to shell out more cash for apples and apple products, and if you prefer to buy produce locally, it may be tough to find your favorite varieties. Additionally, drought-affected areas may also see smaller apple sizes with thicker skins, though not necessarily a decline in taste. Many orchards also allow customers to pick their own apples, but some hard-hit areas are canceling this autumn tradition to cut costs and account for the lower numbers.
Couple this with the toll on other crops like corn and soybeans (which also suffered from the summer droughts), and 2012's abnormal weather could have a far-reaching economical impact across the board, driving food prices up for both the average consumer, and in the commercial sector.
Not all the news is bleak on this year's harvest, though; some areas got lucky with the weather and are looking at big harvests featuring big apples. Pennsylvania expects about average production, unlike neighbors New York and Ohio. The New England states also fared well and are expecting good harvests, and Washington, the nation's top apple producer, also enters the fall season more or less unscathed.
Many success stories also come from micro-climate regions, where the right topography and prevailing winds provided just enough insulation to resist the frost. Pennsylvania's York and Adams counties, for example, are already picking plenty of high-quality apples ahead of schedule.
One thing remains certain, though…wherever you are, the best apples won't last long so stock up now!