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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fewer acres of apple orchards in NH, but apple picking remains important to state

With fall nearly upon us, New Hampshire officials will mark the annual Apple Day this week, celebrating the importance of this fruit to the state’s farms even though the number of orchards in the state continues to plummet.

The total number of acres listed as growing apples in New Hampshire has fallen by 60 percent since a peak in 1982, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s census of agriculture, and continues to fall – declining some 20 percent in the five years leading up to 2012. ...

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With fall nearly upon us, New Hampshire officials will mark the annual Apple Day this week, celebrating the importance of this fruit to the state’s farms even though the number of orchards in the state continues to plummet.

The total number of acres listed as growing apples in New Hampshire has fallen by 60 percent since a peak in 1982, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s census of agriculture, and continues to fall – declining some 20 percent in the five years leading up to 2012.

Yet that decline doesn’t necessarily reflect changing importance in apples to the state’s growing small-farm industry.

Through the 1990s, most apple orchards in New Hampshire were large, wholesale operations that sold most of their crops to intermediaries who in turn sold them to stores for eating or to processors for making applesauce, apple juice and other products.

That market was hit hard by competition, first from the Pacific Northwest and then from Asia. Many once large orchards, such as Woodmont in the Souhegan Valley, have been split up and partly or largely developed.

In more recent years, however, the rise of farms selling directly to consumers partly by providing entertainment or activities has brought apples back into the fore.

Pick-your-own operations, usually on relatively small orchards, are an important part of New Hampshire’s surprisingly robust agricultural scene.

New Hampshire Apple Day will be celebrated Thursday , when Gov. Maggie Hassan will make a ceremonial “first pick of the season” at Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook.

Gould Hill is typical of a modern thriving New Hampshire farm in that it depends on direct sales – luring people with doughnuts and bakery items, as well as non-farm activities such as weddings and events – rather than the wholesaling of produce.

Farms in Greater Nashua with pick-your-own apples include Brookdale and Lull in Hollis, McLeod in Milford and Currier in Merrimack.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@Granite
Geek).