Keep apple prices up after storage

Consumers like apples year-round. But keeping the crunch in premium-quality, fresh market applies and extending the selling season is still a challenge — one that Chris Watkins, Cornell’s postharvest fruit scientist, has been working with growers on since late 2006.

Watkins has worked with Hudson Valley, Lake Champlain and western New York growers to evaluate multiple influences on apple storage, specifically McIntoshes and Empires. Sun Orchard Fruit Co. is one of those cooperators.

The Burt, N.Y., company packs and stores fruit from 40 western New York growers. “We’re looking for the production, harvest and storage management regime that’ll give growers and sellers a natural advantage, as supply drops and late-season demand creates premium pricing,” says Sun President Steve Riessen.

“The goal is to identify best pre- and postharvest practices for extending storage that also maintains superior fruit quality,” adds Watkins. “We want to overcome factors that limit internal fruit quality, resulting in shorter-than-desirable marketing periods.”

The project is funded by the New York Farm Viability Institute and the N.Y. State Apple Research Development Program.

Key Points

• Keeping the crunch in apples involves more than storage.

• Retaining premium quality is especially valuable for exports.

• Cumulative information will benefit the industry positively.

Premium vs. juice difference

Sun Orchard stores about 500,000 bushels of apples in a controlled-atmosphere, or CA, facility. Tim Mansfield, sales and marketing director, says, “If we enhance and extend our storage supply for 20% to 30% of the harvest, the selling difference could be big — premium price instead of juice price.”

Riessen notes that they’re gaining insight on how extended spring blossoming, later harvest dates, seasonal growing conditions and the oxygen/carbon dioxide balance in storage affect storability.

Crunch factor is crucial

Cornell researchers estimate more than 85% of all Empire apples in New York placed in CA storage are treated with SmartFresh, a 1-MCP (methylcyclopropene) product, to slow ripening. “SmartFresh particularly helps Empires maintain their ‘crunch,’ ” adds Watkins.

Growers and packers also can improve storage quality with optimal harvest timing for fresh market or storage. Many fruit growers, he reports, have adopted early harvesting, thanks to educational outreach.

"We’re learning more all the time,” adds Riessen.

For more on ongoing postharvest maturity management and storage technology research, call Watkins at 607-255-1784, or e-mail him at cbw3@cornell.edu.

Dunn writes from her farm in Mannsville, N.Y.

NYFVI is a farmer-led nonprofit that invests in innovative projects to increase the success of ag production enterprises, protect farm-based natural resources and produce measurable farm-level results. For more information, visit the Web site www.nyfvi.org.

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BIG CHILLER: Steve Riessen (left) and Tim Mansfield contend that both preharvest and postharvest practices can help capture premium apple prices.

This article published in the February, 2010 edition of AMERICAN AGRICULTURIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.