New York Ranks High in Apple, Grape Production

If you can find it in your cold, iced-over, Vitamin D-deprived heart, consider this: New York has three other seasons besides winter. And during those seasons, things grow here—things that aren’t blackened snow piles pocked with dog poop and uncollected garbage.

Plants, even!

To remind you of this miracle, and give you something to peruse while it snows (yes, again), the USDA recently released the Noncitrus Fruits and Nuts Summary for 2014, a descriptively-named guide to U.S. fruit production numbers by state.

In typical New York fashion, the Empire State ranks high, coming in second in the country for apple production, and third for grapes. The news comes as New York celebrates a record agricultural sales year in 2013 and a range of other farm-based successes.

Leader of the Pack

According to the report, New York is home to 40,000 acres of apple orchards producing an estimated 1.26 billion pounds of apples in 2014. That puts New York second in the nation, a ranking it has maintained since 1996. Only Washington State produces more.

Remember spring, summer, and fall? We will see them again. Photo credit: Porsche Brosseau / Creative Commons.

According to the New York Apple Association, there are 694 commercial apple growers in the state, who tend more than 10 million trees. These orchardists coax fruit from more than 20 varieties, from the familiar Fuji, Gala, and Golden Delicious, to the more obscure RubyFrost, Zestar, and Northern Spy. Some of these heirloom types can only be found at roadside stands or at the orchards themselves.

The NYAA estimates that 53 percent of the annual apple harvest is sold as fresh-market fruit, with the remainder being processed into juice, cider, and canned products.

A Bushel and a Peck… and a Bottle

As you might expect in a state with high apple production, New York also has a thriving hard cider industry. That’s thanks in part to a relatively new piece of legislation signed by Governor Cuomo.

There are more than 50 cider producers in New York State. Photo via NY Cider Week.

The Farm Cidery law took effect in January 2014, creating a new license available to small, craft farm cideries that use crops grown exclusively in New York State. Previously, cider production was allowed only under a brewery or winery license.

The new legislation releases cider-makers from some of the more stringent restrictions placed upon brewers and winemakers, while permitting sales at farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer outlets. It also creates a market for “seconds” apples—fruit that would otherwise go to waste.

So far, 11 farm cideries in New York have been granted a license, a number which is expected to grow in coming years.

Additional legislation drafted by Senator Chuck Schumer would decrease the federal tax on hard cider to the same rate as the tax on beer (currently it is taxed at the same rate as wine).

On the Vine

Not to be outdone, New York’s grape growers also ranked high in the USDA report, coming in third in the country, behind California and Washington.

Grapes in the vine at Benmarl Winery in Marlborough, NY. Photo credit: Young Sok Yun/Creative Commons.

More than 37,000 acres across the state are dedicated to the production of grapes. In the wake of a very harsh winter following the best crop in the state’s history, grape growers produced 5.08 tons per acre of grapes in 2014 with crop production totaling $69.4 million.

As for other fruits, well, the Empire State’s no slouch there either: New York also ranks in the top 10 in the blueberry, peach, pear, strawberry, and sweet/tart cherries industries.

5 Things to Know About NY Agriculture from the 2012 Census

Every five years (the ones ending in a 2 or a 7, in case you were wondering), the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts a census of American farmers. Processing all that data takes quite a bit of time (heck, just getting farmers to return it is pretty time-intensive), so preliminary results for the 2012 census were just released last month.

In case you’re not familiar, the census provides a comprehensive summary of agricultural activity in every state and county in the nation, including the number of farms* by size and type, inventory and values for crops, farmer* characteristics, and much more.

While the detailed report won’t be available until late spring, the first batch of data is here now. Overall the data shows the continuation of the same trends we’ve seen for years: our farmers are getting older and fewer in number, and the farms that do stick around are getting bigger.

Dig a little deeper though, and there are some bright spots to be had—even here in the Big Apple. Below are five important things to know about New York agriculture in 2012, as revealed by the first batch of census data.

  • Young farmers are sprouting: The number of farmers under the age of 35 in New York State grew 14.4 percent over the five-year period (from 1,879 to 2,149)—that’s way above the national increase of just 1.1 percent. Wes Hannah of the National Young Farmers Coalition explained the growth to NYER this way: “New York is one of the leaders in providing many programs and benefits for beginning farmers—everything from a strong Cooperative ExtensionNOFA, and other organizations to helpful land trusts and other groups focused on land access. We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re optimistic that we’re starting to see the inflection point on recognizing the need to support the next generation.”
  • Farmers are becoming more diverse: While the total number of farmers in the United States continues to fall, the farmers we do have are becoming more diverse. Here in New York, the number of farms being operated by those of Spanish, Hispanic or Latino origins has increased by 27 percent since 2007. Those operated by Asians are up 8.4 percent, and by African Americans 6 percent.
  • We’re still losing farms…but not as fast as the rest of the nation: From 2007 to 2012, the United States lost farms at nearly twice the rate as New York State (a 4.3 percent decline compared to a percent decline) That being said, New York still lost 814 farms over the five year period, which works out to about three farms per week. Ouch.
  • Farmland acreage is increasing: According to the report, land being used for farm operations in New York has increased by .12 percent, to 7,183,579 acres. That may not seem like a lot, but nationwide we actually saw a drop of 0.8 percent.
  • We’ve got a few more full-time farmers. Off-farm employment has always been important for America’s farming population (whether for additional income, health benefits, or other reasons), and New York is no different. Forty-two percent of New York farmers report another job as their primary occupation—but that’s 4 percent less than 2007. That means more farmers are finding a way to make full-time food production work, and that’s good news.

These demographic, economic, and production trends are not only super-interesting for all of us numbers geeks—they’re also a critical tool for policy makers, community planners, journalists, farmers, and the general public, too. The best part is, this is just a taste of what’s to come! Full results are expected in May 2014.

(* Note: The USDA defines a farm as any agricultural enterprise that produces and sells goods worth at least $1,000 in a year. Demographic data is taken from surveys of each farm’s “principal operator.”)