Apple harvest looking good, pushing limits

Matt Vodraska checks on the condition of some apples at his family's Rittman Orchards.

WOOSTER, Ohio — This is the time of year to sit back and have an apple … or two, or three, or maybe buy yourself a couple bushels and make some applesauce or apple pie.

The Ohio and Pennsylvania apple crop is on and growers say it looks good.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s a bumper crop, but it’s a big crop, probably bigger than the five-year average,” said Bill Dodd, president of the Ohio Fruit Growers Marketing Association.

Last year’s crop year was “very early” and “very short,” he said, while this year has benefited from enough moisture and so far, a warm autumn.

By the numbers

If the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s statistics service was not shut down due to the temporary government shutdown, we would report the statewide harvest figures. But even without those numbers, growers say yields on their own farms look good.

Last year’s apple harvest was weak, weather was to blame

“The fruit is looking excellent,” said Julie Bancroft, executive director of the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program. “The size is great, the moisture we had over the summer has really played into some really nice fruit setting.”

She expects Pennsylvania to be on par with last year’s harvest, somewhere between 9.5 million-11 million bushels of apples. Ohio typically produces about 2 million bushels a year.

At Rittman Orchards near Rittman, Ohio, the Vodraska family is finishing up a new cold storage facility that will house apples at about 30 degrees, keeping them good for about six months. They’ve grown produce at the orchard since 2005, or about eight years.

“It’s probably the biggest crop we’ve had since taking over,” said Matt Vodraska

The family has worked to reclaim and improve the decades-old orchard, and yields typically get a little better each year. They farm about 50-60 acres of tree fruits, and 15 acres of berry crops.

Advanced storage

Rittman Orchards is one of many growers affiliated with GreenStar Cooperative of Greenford, Ohio. The southern Mahoning County co-op allows farmers to store produce in controlled atmosphere storage.This highly advanced method allows apples to be stored until the end of May following harvest, by keeping temperatures low and reducing the oxygen exposure, and creating the ideal enclosed environment.

GreenStar has a commercial storage capacity of 54,000 bushels, with more than half set up for controlled atmosphere storage.

John Webel, CEO of GreenStar, said regular storage can keep apples good through Christmas, but extended storage helps extend the market season considerably.I

t’s still early, but so far the apples he’s seen look good. He said they may be a little later this year than usual, and he’s not sure that the sugar content will be as high as other years.

But every year has its challenges, he said, and overall the apples look good. He expects the state to hit its 2 million bushel average.

Out and about

In Ohio Amish Country, near the border of Wayne and Holmes counties, William Gingerich is reporting good yields, especially for cider apples. He sells from his farm at 6491 Mount Hope Road, near Apple Creek, and occasionally takes some to the Mount Hope Produce Auction.

Eli Miller and his family operate a three-acre apple orchard at 6413 Township Road 607, near Fredericksburg. He said he expects an average yield overall, with a slight decrease for Yellow Delicious apples, because last year’s Yellow Delicious apples did very well.

Fruit trees often balance out yields from year-to-year, going from a poor year to a very good year, and vice versa.

Bountiful harvest

In Michigan, last year’s apple yield was a feeble 2.7 million bushels. This year, the crop is predicted to top 30 million bushels.“This year is a limb-busting crop; some of our branches are so full with apples that they snap with a little help from the wind,” said Adam Dietrich, Michigan State University graduate and grower. “A single tree from 2013 is producing more than an 8-acre block of trees did in 2012.”

New York apple industry leaders forecast the apple crop there will meet the state’s five-year average production of 29 million bushels.

That’s good news following last year’s crop of 17.1 million bushels, because of the early season freezes. Research has shown that in a poor growing year, the trees store up essential nutrients, and in a decent year, those nutrients are released in the form of higher yielding fruit.


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Chris Kick served Farm and Dairy's readership as a reporter for nearly a decade before accepting a job at Iowa State University Extension. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University.


  1. I noticed that my two pear trees are producing so heavily this year that the branches are breaking off. It’s interesting to know what’s going on around the state/region. Thanks for the article.


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