Apple farms important to agriculture, economy

HARRISBURG – Soergel Orchards has been growing apples since 1850.

“It just gets in your blood,” said CEO Reed Soergel while manning a display in the Main Hall of the 98th Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.

The Wexford-based business produces between 10,000 and 12,000 bushels of apples per year. Its biggest seller is Golden Delicious, but Honeycrisp is gaining in popularity, Soergel said.

Apples are a big deal in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is the fourth-largest producer of apples in the country, and apples are the state’s fourth largest agricultural commodity. Pennsylvania produces 439 million pounds of apples a year with a value of $79.7 million, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

“This year, we had one of the best crops we ever had. This year’s crop was phenomenal, a record crop in terms of volume. We had some of the best, colorful fruit I had ever seen,” said Executive Director Julie Bancroft of the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program, which has some 265 member growers.

Adams County has the largest group of growers, but every single county in Pennsylvania produces apples, Bancroft said.

There are nearly 100 varieties of apples grown across the state with Honeycrisp – a sweet, crisp and juicy apple with a hint of soft honey flavor – becoming one of the most popular.

“Honeycrisp has become huge, but it is a hard apple to raise,” Soergel said. “It is not the simplest apple to raise. It takes a lot of attention.”

“One of my favorites is jonagold, sort of a combination of Jonathan and Golden Delicious. People also love the Pink Lady, and Gala is very popular,” Bancroft said.

Godfrey Run Farm in Lake City, Erie County, is in its 36th year of growing apples.

Owner/manager Gary Faulkner retired from the insurance business about eight years ago to concentrate on his apples.

“It is rewarding just to see them from the beginning to the end; from planting a tree to seeing it develop,” Faulkner said. “Each year they bloom, form apples, and then the harvest and seeing the people in your market enjoying your final product.”

Faulkner said he also sells about 9,000 gallons of cider a year, which makes up about a quarter of his business.

Timothy D. Beard III has a unique apple orchard.

Beard, president and CEO of Gray Wolf Plantation, New Oxford, produces heirloom apples.

“I have the largest collection of pre-Civil War apple varieties in the United States,” Beard claimed.

The growers enjoy meeting with visitors at the farm show.

“I am a people person. It is neat to be able to take something no one else has done in years and talk intelligently about it,” Beard said.

“I am volunteering to try and tell the people what I know about apples. People can learn about the apples we grow in Pennsylvania,” Faulkner said. “They are a significant part of the state’s economy.”

Soergel said it is important to buy Pennsylvania apples.

“We are “Pennsylvania Preferred,” Soergel said. “We are trying to get the people to understand when they go out and buy Washington state apples, it hurts our small markets, and the quality is not as good. Ours is superior. When you come to us, you are talking to someone who knows the product,” Soergel said.

The farm show continues from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free, and parking is $10. The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center is easily accessed from Interstate 81.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.