When it comes to sales to consumers, NH apple growers are pick of the crop

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New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill picked the first apple at Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis Wednesday, officially kicking off the season.

Merrill read a proclamation from Gov. John Lynch recognizing New England Apple Day. The state’s 180 apple growers bring in about $14 million annually, according to Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of agricultural development for the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture.

About 2,000 acres used for apple production in New Hampshire are worked by a new breed of small farmer that focuses directly on the customer.

“We do a lot of retail and we’re proud of it,” said Chuck Souther of the New England Apple Growers Association.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. New Hampshire took the No. 1spot in direct farm sales as a percentage of all farm sales.

“It really is a New England trend,” Jellie said.

Brookdale Fruit Farm has been a family-owned business since 1847. Pick-your-own apple services account for about 10 percent of the farm’s business, according to Chip Hardy, one of the owners.

The farm uses low-oxygen storage technology to keep apples crisp into March. The produce is sold to Hannaford and Shaw’s markets, as well as to school systems.

“We’ve expanded with the times,” Hardy said.

Like many local growers, Hardy has been able to double his yield and keep production costs stable by switching from standard-sized trees to semi-dwarf and dwarf trees. The smaller trees grow higher quality fruit and can produce up to 1,000 bushels to the acre, Hardy said.

Hardy said he expects to have plenty of McIntosh, Empire, Gala, Honeycrisp, red and golden delicious apples.

Danny Hicks of Sunnycrest Farm in Londonderry said consumer demand for locally grown, fresh produce has helped him gain business as a supermarket supplier. Supermarkets like Hannaford and Shaw’s have an interest in connecting with local farms, Hicks said. “It’s a nice little circle that‘s working well right now,” Hicks said.

Variety also plays a part. Hicks predicts that the Honeycrisp will be the popular apple this year. He described it as a smaller, sweeter apple that’s easier for children to hold and eat. The Fuji, a late-season apple that’s also sweet, will also have a good year, Hicks expects.

Souther, of Apple Hill Farm in Concord, is also expecting a great apple season.

“Overall, the weather cooperated this year,” Souther said. “It’s just working out really nice for us.”

About 50 percent of his gross profits are attributed to the apple harvest, although he produces other crops such as strawberries and vegetables, Souther said.

Out-of-state visitors have given a boost to farm stands in the last five years, Souther said.

“A lot of people come to New England to visit farms,” Souther said.

Leigh Hardy of Brookdale Fruit Farm has also seen an increase in local visitors who come for the hayrides, corn mazes, ice cream and pick-your-own apples and pumpkins. More people are asking about homemade jellies and canning as well, Hardy said.

“It’s just a great family experience,” Hardy said.

source:  unionleader.com

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