Hail-damaged apples in Wayne may be salvaged

Julie Sherwood

Fruit farmers in Wayne County took a big hit last week from a shredding hailstorm. Peter Gregg, spokesman for New York Farm Bureau, said 90 percent of Wayne County’s fruit crop was hit  — 15,000 acres of the some 17,000 acres of Wayne County orchards.

It won’t be clear until fall harvest exactly how much of the crop was lost. But certain apples that don’t qualify to be sold as “fresh-eating apples” can be sold for sauces, juices, cider and other products.

 And there lies a silver lining.

“The marketplace for processing is the highest it has been in three decades,” said Gregg. Consumer demand is up for juices and other apple products.

Though farmers don’t fetch as much money for apples sold for processing, tapping into that market will at least offer relief, he said.

That is where farmers in Ontario County, who were spared the hail damage, can help.

“There is opportunity to find a home for the fruit that still makes it,” said Brian Nicholson, co-owner of Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva on Routes 5 and 20.

Red Jacket grows 500 acres of apples, with most sold as the fresh-eating variety. But in recent years, sales of cider and juice have risen about 20 percent, Nicholson said. More juice and cider  means more apples will be needed.  The operation produces about 500,000 gallons of juice a year and uses 5.5 million pounds of apples, said Nicholson.

Red Jacket already purchases apples from Wayne County and elsewhere in the state as far as 70 miles away. With transportation costs high — and rising fuel costs pushing them higher — the closer the orchard the better. That gives the Wayne County orchards the edge as suppliers.

But whether such purchases by Red Jacket and other processors is enough to create a market for all the salvageable apples “remains to be seen,” said Gregg.

The market for juice “will be some help,” said Phil Wagner, president of Wayne County Farm Bureau and the owner of 157 acres of orchard in Wolcott. But he worries about how many apples will be available come harvest.

“Hail damage has been so huge — so all-encompassing — that some fruit is already starting to rot,” said Wagner.

Contact Julie Sherwood at (585) 394-0770, ext. 263, or