Apple picking, cider can be more expensive due to crop, lack of labor

  • Apple crops will be smaller in some parts of the country this year due to frost in late spring.
  • This shortage combined with a workforce can increase the prices of orchards and cider factories.
  • Some orchards completely cancel the u-pick apple due to light apple crops.

Sorry, millennia: Your annual fall pilgrimage to an apple orchard may cost you a few dollars more this year.

A combination of climate change and labor shortages is causing prices to rise in apple orchards and cider factories in many parts of the country, including Michigan and Wisconsin, leading to smaller crops in regions like the Southeast.

The American Apple Association, a trade group for the apple industry, warned in its Apple Outlook report in August that the industry is facing a severe shortage of labor, which began even before the pandemic.

“We are losing domestic workers faster than we can replace them,” Chris Gerlach, the group’s director of industry analysis, wrote in the report. While employment in the agricultural sector in general has fallen, it is even worse in apple orchards: between 2014 and 2020, the average annual employment of crops fell by 3% – in apple orchards it fell by 20%, according to Gerlach.

In Wisconsin, a freeze in late spring leads to lighter apple crops this year, according to the FDL Reporter, a daily newspaper in Wisconsin. This has led to at least one orchard and cider mill, The Little Farmer, canceling u-pick apples this season, prioritizing items like caramel apples and baked goods over apple cider. In a Facebook post, the company also cited the shortage of labor as the reason it cannot offer frozen apple pies at the moment.

In Michigan, a similar severe frost in late April damaged crops for many growers, the Detroit Free Press reported. This has led to some orchards choosing not to offer their own apples this year, and many cider factories need to procure their apples from producers elsewhere. On top of that, the costs are up and some apple varieties are just not available.

“Across the board, it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before,” Nancy Steinhauer, owner of Dexter Cider Mill, told Free Press. “The shipment is up, the products are up, the apples are far up.”

Another Michigan company, Diehl’s Orchard Cider and Mill, told Free Press that it raised its cider prices from $ 8.50 per gallon to $ 10 this year to help offset costs.

Overall, apple growers in Michigan are expected to produce 18.25 million bushels this year, compared to 22 million bushels by 2020, Free Press reported, citing data from the US Apple Association.

cider mill michigan apple cider

A couple drinking apple cider at Uncle John’s Cider Mill.

Jeffrey Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty Images


In North Carolina, freezing weather led to “widespread and significant crop damage / loss,” Thomas Kon, a professor at North Carolina State’s Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center, told the American Cider Association, a trade group for the hard cider industry. .

“Unfortunately, 2021 will be a difficult year for large parts of the southeastern apple industry,” Kon said.

An extreme heat wave in Washington earlier this summer could also affect crops there as well, Tim Kovis, a spokesman for the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, told The Wenatchee World.

“What our members have somehow reported back to us is that the early heat we saw in late June and early July was problematic,” Kovis said. “Trees look like humans. When the temperature gets a little high, they get a little dull and the growth slows down for the fruit.”

Other parts of the country, including Massachusetts and New York, have struggled with insect infestations or a destructive disease known as fire damage during this year’s growing season, according to the ACA, though northeastern growers still report healthy apple crops.

Overall, US apple production is expected to reach over 265 million bushels this year, an increase of 2.7% over the 2020-2021 growing season, according to data from the US Apple Association.

Cumberland maine apple picking apple orchard

A woman on Orchard Hill Farm near Portland, Maine.

Whitney Hayward / Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images


In the mid-2010s, apple picking became a crucial millennial activity, driven by the rise of Instagram and the popularity of all things falling — including, of course, pumpkin spices.

This initially led to confusion among some producers, who said they felt like zoo exhibits and had others adapt their business models to accommodate casual weekend pickers in search of a photo op instead of the main buyers in previous years, The Atlantic reported in 2015.

In 2020, apple picking along with other summer and fall activities like visiting pumpkin patches or sunflower fields became safe, outdoor opportunities for people who want to get out of their homes. U-pick farms told The New York Times in October last year that they were particularly busy, with some even having to close their fields to let new fruit ripen.

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