Farmers and industry figures are welcoming news this week that New York is again the nation's second largest producer of apples and the third largest producer of grapes. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley has more on the statistics released by the Cuomo administration.
According to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, New York farms produced 1.26 billion pounds of apples and 188,000 tons of grapes last year. The state maintains its No. 2 ranking nationally in apple production, as it has since 1996. It is third in grape production, which it has retained since 1987, except in 1996 when it produced the second highest number of grapes.
New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets spokesman Joe Morrissey says there is ample opportunity to expand production in both sectors. “to new markets both within the state and outside the state. The way we’re trying to do that is tie in agriculture with tourism through Governor Cuomo’s Taste NY program. We were just in Boston over the weekend with 25 wineries promoting New York wines to people from outside the state.”
New York Apple Association President James Allen doubts that the Empire State will ever produce the most apples in the nation, noting that as New York produces 30 million bushels, Washington State grows nearly 150 million bushels. But Allen says New York has advantages including excellent soils and Cornell research facilities. “And probably the biggest advantage that we have is population base. We’re just a few hours away from the largest population base in the United States. And that’s very important to our growers and our marketers.”
Forrence Orchards in Peru, New York ships and exports apples. Co-owner Peter Forrence says there is substantial demand for the product. “We really have seen pretty substantial demand given what’s going on in the apple business right now. You have a port strike on the West Coast which is prohibiting Washington’s apples from going west. Consequently those apples are coming east. But we continue to see very substantial demand, probably because we have unique varieties here.”
Two-thirds of New York’s grapes go to the juice market, about one percent are sold as fresh fruit and the remainder are used in the growing wine industry. New York Wine and Grape Foundation President Jim Trezise says the state has an excellent climate to grow a wide variety of grapes. “In our business since it’s nature you’re always talking about the climate. But people often forget that you have to have a good business climate to grow the industry. You’re not over-regulated, you’re not over-taxed and there are marketing opportunities and so forth. So we have grown very, very strongly and there is room for more growth. So I think we’re on a roll.”
NY Farm Bureau Spokesman Steve Ammerman notes that fruit production and wineries account for more than 10,000 jobs across the state and expects significant growth. “We are seeing growth in part of the diversification that’s taking place and the new opportunities that are set for farm distilleries, wineries, cideries. But there’s also greater research and greater promotion that’s going on.”
According to the governor’s office, last year’s apple crop was valued at $289 million and 2014 grape production totaled $69.4 million.