The drought of 2010 has been hard on many of Virginia’s agricultural crops, but the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) says the outlook for the 2010 apple crop is very good.

In early August, staff from VDACS’ Office of Sales and Market Development contacted growers representing the three major apple-growing areas of Virginia: Southwest, Central and the Northern Shenandoah Valley. With very few exceptions, growers indicated that the 2010 harvest should be normal, and in some places, even excellent despite record heat and what is turning out to be a major drought.

The earliest apples were ready for harvest approximately a week earlier than usual, starting with Paula Red apples in July, followed in late July/early August by Ginger Golds and Galas. Favorites such as Red and Golden Delicious apples are harvested in September followed by Rome apples in early October, York apples in early to mid-October, Winesaps, Staymans and Granny Smith apples in mid-October, and then Fujis in late October or early November. Many pick-your-own farms also offer heirloom and heritage varieties of apples.

Big business in Virginia

“Apples are big business in Virginia,” said Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS Commissioner, “and it was a great relief to hear the harvest should be good this year despite the drought. Virginia is the sixth largest apple growing state in the nation with an estimated 18,000 acres of commercial apple production. In a normal year, we will produce between 5 million and 5.5 million bushels of apples.” Lohr added that growers will make their estimates later this month for this year’s harvest, but early indications are for normal volumes. He said there are approximately 150 commercial growers in Virginia. 

The unusually high temperatures this summer have slowed the apple growth and some of the earlier varieties may run slightly smaller than normal. The sugar content is up, however, and growers expect the apples to have a fantastic taste. The recent rains around the Commonwealth will help the later varieties reach their normal sizes. As the harvest moves later in the season, evening temperatures will begin to drop and that will give the apples the red color Virginia is known for. “In sum,” said Lohr, “Virginia is poised for another good apple harvest.”

The state boasts many pick-your-own farms that offer apples. Consumers may search for them at the interactive website www.virginiagrown.com. Search options include location (by county, region or zip code), venue (pick-your-own farms) or product (apples). VDACS encourages consumers to call ahead for fruit availability and hours of operation. The fall also offers many apple festivals and events. A listing of apple festivals is available at http://www.virginiaapples.org/events/index.html.