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NIAGARA'S APPLE HARVEST IS IN FULL SWING

They are solids and shades of red, green, golden and orange and all except the orange globes are being picked, displayed, packed, shipped or stored for sale over the next half year.

The orange ones are pumpkins, and they are going fast for Halloween.

The New York apple crop, more particularly those grown in Niagara, Orleans and other Western New York counties, currently is about half-picked. The Paula reds, Early Macs and Gingergolds are gone, while the Empires, Macintosh, Spartans and a dozen other varieties are being picked.

"If the weather doesn't change much, we'll be picking right through to Nov. 10 when we take the last of the Ida reds and Romes," said Dan Sievert, the maestro over 900 acres of Niagara Orchard's bearing trees. Another 300 acres of Niagara Orchard apple trees, mostly dwarfs and semi-dwarf sizes up to 5 years old, are nearing the production stage.

"We have a long harvest season," Sievert said. "It began in late August. Throughout, Niagara Orchards has had a good labor supply. We have recruited our harvest workers through the federal government's H 2 A guest worker program."

The 75 Niagara County and 78 Orleans County commercial apple growers expect to harvest their usual one-quarter share of this year's 25 million to 26 million-bushel crop in the state. It figures to be about 9 percent greater than the 1996 harvest and one that already has produced more higher-quality apples.

Last year, about 42 percent of the harvested apples were sold in the higher-priced fresh market. The remainder went for applesauce, slices, dried apples, cider and juice.

"We have had fewer insect problems, less russeting this year," said Steve Riesen of Newfane's Sun Orchards, a large Niagara County apple packer and shipper. "Consumers do not see see poorer quality apples. They are removed from the pick before retailers get them. And this year, we have fewer culls than in 1996."

Growing and storing apples are two parts of what has become a year-round apple industry. In Niagara County, having quality apples to sell stepped up a large notch with the opening this year of two 50,000-bushel additions of controlled atmosphere storages. One is at the Russell Apple Storage on Transit Road and the other is at the Bucolo Cold Storage on the Burt-Wilson Road, Newfane.

Controlled atmosphere (CA) storages hold apples in air-tight, computer-controlled rooms where the temperature is lowered and oxygen largely removed to reduce the metabolism of the stored apples. When they are removed from the CA rooms, months after they were picked, the apples are as fresh and firm as they were when picked.

Growing and storing the apple crop are the first two phases -- selling is the third. Whether the 1997 New York apple crop will return more to growers than last year's record $138.8 million crop won't be known for several more months. Whatever the total, 25 percent will come to Niagara and Orleans growers.

Marketing factors vary each year. In 1997, the monster Washington State apple crop is 10-15 percent smaller than last year's "limb buster," giving greater sales opportunities to growers in other states. But in 1997, Niagara County and New York growers will face stronger competition from Michigan and Pennsylvania apple growers, whose crops are substantially above 1996 levels.

Locally, the apple selling season started on a high note last week-end when a record 45,000 people visited the Niagara Apple Country Festival at the Niagara County Fairgrounds.

"We think that the apple industry is an important part of our heritage and we plan to bring that message into our classrooms," said David Kinyon of the Eastern Niagara Chamber of Commerce, a festival sponsor. "We will do it again next year and make sure that apples dominate the festival."

Earlier, the New York Apple Association, the grower-financed marketing team, carried the New York "Apple Country" message to New York City, where Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani proclaimed "Big Apple Day." In a Brooklyn supermarket, a seven-ton apple display was mounted and apples were sold for three pounds for $1.

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