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Originally published Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 1:28 PM

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US apple growers seek bigger bite of hybrid market

Can saucy tactics give an edge to an American apple industry that's been growing since the days of the Pilgrims?

Associated Press Writer


Can saucy tactics give an edge to an American apple industry that's been growing since the days of the Pilgrims?

A federal proposal would try to cut into the hot hybrid market in apples that has sweetened the Canadian market by 800 percent and seeks to put American growers years ahead of the growing global market.

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said Thursday that his proposal would provide $20 million for apple farmers to switch to new varieties, such as Honeycrisp, that Canadian growers are already selling at eight times the price of traditional apples, such as McIntosh.

The grants and low-interest loans from the Agriculture Department would help pay for the new plantings in November and the loss of revenue during the three years of growth needed before the new variety can be picked.

The measure will help apple growers from Washington state to New York compete with Canada and China, Schumer said.

In Canada, Honeycrisp apples gave the industry an 800 percent boost when McIntosh trees were replaced with the new variety, according to CBC News. But Nova Scotia orchards are already looking for newer varieties to excite consumers when the red-hot demand for Honeycrisp falls.

Nationally, 7,500 apple growers produce 100 varieties in 36 states in a crop valued near $2 billion, according to the U.S. Apple Association, a trade group. Washington, followed by New York, are the top-producing states, and the United States is second among nations to China.

"This is one of those rare instances where money actually does grow on trees," Schumer, a Democrat, said Thursday.

Farmers in New York and elsewhere need the federal help to pay for the quick transition to capitalize on the demand for new varieties, Schumer said. The loans and grants will speed the process by years, he said.

It costs $9,000 to $12,000 to convert an acre, Schumer said.

Apple growers will be able to apply for the funding, if approved in Washington, to grow new varieties including those being developed at Cornell University in upstate New York. The University of Minnesota developed the Honeycrisp, which thrives in colder climates, as well as the new SweeTango variety.

"This is a chance to actually improve" global market share, Schumer said. "Because the sales of McIntosh and Delicious are going down, we will decline if we don't do this."

The New York Farm Bureau supports the measure. There are 1,350 apple farms in every part of the state north of New York City. They employ about 17,000 people.

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