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Stark Nursery apple trees have gone up in price and are now around $42 where as they were $24 several years ago. That same year it was a bad economy and they had an end of year sale with apple trees as low as $9.


Everyone’s favorite apple is leaving Northeastern orchards out on a limb.

Honeycrisp and Cox Orange Pippin apples for sale at Fishkill Farms. Photographer: Karolina Wojtasik/Bloomberg.

Bite into a Honeycrisp apple and you understand why consumers are willing to pay so much for a piece of fruit: the crunch.

That’s no accident. In the pre-Honeycrisp era, apples had just two textures: “soft and mealy (that nobody liked), and then we had the good apples, the hard, crisp and dense,” said David Bedford, one of the original breeders of the Honeycrisp.

Unlike the vast majority of modern commercial produce, the Honeycrisp apple wasn’t bred to grow, store or ship well. It was bred for taste: crisp, with balanced sweetness and acidity. Though it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, along the way it became a nightmare for some producers, forcing small Northeastern growers to compete with their massive, climatically advantaged counterparts on the West Coast.

The Honeycrisp wasn’t an immediate success. The original tree, known officially as MN1711, was discarded in 1977 over concerns about its winter hardiness. But Bedford, who joined the team in 1979, found four small clones that had miraculously escaped the garbage and decided to see if they’d yield fruit. “In 1983,” Bedford wrote in an email, “those small trees bore a few amazing fruit and the rest is history.”

The Honeycrisp variety is now so popular, consumers will spend three times the cost of other apples to experience it.

Prices for Honeycrisps Can Be 2-3x Other Apples

But for that sweet, juicy crunch: Worth it.

Production of Honeycrisps has doubled between 2012-2018, making it the fifth most-grown variety, according to Mark Seetin, director of regulatory and industry affairs at the U.S. Apple Association. But not everyone is a fan. Those who produce Honeycrisps often have the most cutting words for it.

“The first challenge is controlling its vigor,” said Brenda Briggs of Rice Fruit Co., which has been selling apples out of Adams County, Pennsylvania, for more than 100 years. Growers, she explains, have to train the trees so that their branches don’t get too tall too fast, with leaves that block the sunlight from the apples below.

The fruit is also vulnerable to bitter pit—small, sunken brown spots that sully an otherwise perfect orb. The flaw is a result of the trees’ inability to properly take up calcium from the soil. Growers are forced to spray their orchards with foliar calcium to boost their intake, but it’s not always enough.

Size can also be an issue. “The fruit tends to grow very big,” said Mark Nicholson of New York’s Red Jacket Orchards, whose business includes about 400 acres dedicated to apples. “That’s good, but at a certain point the consumer doesn’t want to buy an apple the size of a grapefruit.”

The thin skin that makes those first bites so juicy is also very delicate and easily sunburned. Birds love Honeycrisps more than other apples, forcing growers to buy and install netting to keep them away.

Even if a producer manages to grow a decent crop of Honeycrisps, harvesting and storage come with additional hurdles. The variety is so delicate that the stems have to be clipped off so the apples don’t tear each other. And while other apples can go right from tree to cold storage, Honeycrisps must first spend 5-10 days being “tempered” at a mild temperature before they can be refrigerated.

“It requires growers to do a lot more work,” Nicholson said. In the end, only 55 percent to 60 percent of the fruit makes it to retail, Seetin said.

It also means that even though Honeycrisps cost more than double the price of Red and Golden Delicious apples—at a national average of $2.19 a pound for the month of October—producers aren’t raking it in. “There’s a higher investment and production cost in places that are not Minnesota,” where the Honeycrisp was originally bred, said Karina Gallardo, an agricultural economist at Washington State University.

So why do farmers put up with the hassle? They simply don’t have a choice.

The demand for this one apple exceeds supply—it’s all consumers, and therefore supermarkets, want. So growers are planting with almost reckless abandon, pulling out old varieties, like the tired Red Delicious, and putting in Honeycrisp trees—even in places where they don’t grow well.

For the massive West Coast orchards, this isn’t much of a problem. But on the East Coast, which has smaller orchards and wet weather that makes organic growing impossible, the challenge is more acute. “There’s a lot of concentration of apple growing in the one place [Washington], and that makes it easier for those growers to supply big retailers,” said Susan Futrell, author of “Good Apples: Behind Every Bite” and director of marketing at Red Tomato, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit distributor for a network of over forty wholesale growers. “Decisions about what varieties to carry are getting made by fewer and fewer people and further away from where people are buying the apples.”

Even for such retailers as Whole Foods Market and FreshDirect, both of which have robust local programs, sourcing from the West Coast to sell in the East is inevitable if they want to carry the organic version of their most popular apple.

Meanwhile, everyone is nervously waiting for the day when the supply-demand equilibrium brings sticker prices down far enough that growing the Honeycrisp no longer makes economic sense.

But it’s not likely to happen soon, said Eric Rama, head of agricultural research at MetLife Inc. Even though production is increasing at a rapid pace, demand for premium apples isn’t waning. Retail prices, though slightly lower than last year’s, have stayed at appealing heights for farmers and probably won’t sink in the foreseeable future, he said.

Still, the industry is on the lookout for the next Honeycrisp. Something just as delicious, but less troublesome to cultivate.

Broetje Orchards in Prescott, Washington, is devoting 10 percent of its 7,000 acres to the non-browning Opal, Paul Esvelt, the orchard’s post harvest manager, told Bloomberg at a New York City event to promote the fruit. That’s the same amount of space the grower sets aside for the Honeycrisp. Esvelt expects 3 percent growth for the Opal next year, while Honeycrisp acreage will remain stagnant.

Washington State University plans to introduce the Cosmic Crisp as early as next year, said Gallardo. Tangy, sweet and—as the name implies—crispy, the apple could account for 5 percent to 10 percent of the state’s production.

Josh Morgenthau of Fishkill Farms in New York, meanwhile, would like to see more credit given to the Esopus Spitzenburg, a New York original known for its spicy profile and, some say, a particular favorite of Thomas Jefferson’s.

Despite the extra work, growers will keep planting, picking and selling the Honeycrisp, as long as the core economics makes sense.

“If they aren’t making money,” said Bedford, “I’d be the first to tell them to pull it out.”

Posts: 10881 | Location: Herndon, VA | Registered: June 11, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Cosmo Crisp and Sweet Tango (two other high end apple varieties) are my favorites. I love teh "crunch" but need more sweetness/acid in my apple.

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Posts: 1139 | Location: T-town in the 253 | Registered: January 16, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Maybe regional thing. Around here, I still prefer Fuji over Honeycrisp. I try new varieties of apples with intriguing names. But, again, maybe because of what we get here regionally, I usually come back to Fuji.

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Political Cynic
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I ate Fuji apples in NH as they seemed to be about the best that that I tasted

however once I moved here I discovered the Honey Crisp and haven't looked back and they seem to be available here year round
Posts: 50806 | Location: Tucson Arizona | Registered: January 16, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Striker in waiting
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Sorry. The newfangled apples don’t do much for me.

I’ll take a Jonagold or straight up Jonathan, thanks. Definitely a Braeburn and in a pinch, I’ll settle for Macintosh.

The frustrating thing is, I can drive up to PA Apple country in about an hour. My local grocers, however, seem fixated on the red and gold delicious and Granny Smith. I can usually find a selection of the near-identical “fancy” named ones, too. Seldom any that I actually want.

So close, yet so far away.


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Posts: 15615 | Location: Maryland, AA Co. | Registered: March 16, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Muzzle flash
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I like Honeycrisp apples, but they are not my favorite. I can't get my favorite any more. I prefer the original Mackintosh, slightly green. The current version has been hybridized somehow and does not have the crispness or tartness of the original. I am also very fond of the "green" apples: Granny Smith, Newton Pippin, and Gravenstein.

I want an apple that is crisp and, frankly, sour. The kind that makes good pies (but I eat them raw--my mom couldn't keep "pie" apples on hand when I was a kid).


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Posts: 25173 | Location: Dallas, TX | Registered: May 08, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Try the Honeycrisp apple juice. Yum!
Posts: 6805 | Registered: October 31, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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They are good, but not 2-3x as good. I only buy them if they are on sale.
Posts: 24751 | Location: Johnson City/Elizabethton, TN | Registered: April 28, 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
always with a hat or sunscreen
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Originally posted by egregore:
They are good, but not 2-3x as good. I only buy them if they are on sale.

Same here with Fuji remaining as my normal "go to."

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Posts: 12717 | Location: Black Hills of South Dakota | Registered: June 20, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I used to like Red Delicious Apples until about 3 years ago all the ones I could find where mealy... not crisp. I gave up on them and went to Honeycrisp, with Fuji and Gala when the Honeycrisps aren't available or look crappy. I eat 4-5 apples per week. Keeps the doctor away they say... at least they move my bowels with some regularity. Smile

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I discovered the Pacific Rose apple 5 or 6 years ago. It's my favorite, but have not found it locally in the last 2 years.
Posts: 9708 | Registered: October 26, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Just had one today. I normally buy gala for the price.

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Posts: 6152 | Location: NC | Registered: March 16, 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I love the Honeycrisp but Gala is my go to apple. The Honeycrisps are too expensive and in all honesty bigger than I can eat.
Posts: 7019 | Location: West Jordan, Utah | Registered: June 19, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I have a home orchard, at one time over 30 trees. I had some of many, plum, pear, apples, peaches & apricots, tried anyway.

I’m down to Jonagold, Sweet 16, some pears, & 1 cherry tree. Even though Honeycrisp are great apples, they were to much bother for me.

A tree ripened Jonagold is right up there next to Honeycrisp.

Just about any Apple takes attention to get good fruit, spraying. Pears are a little easier.

I was trying peaches again a few years beck the deer decimated my two trees in the Fall though.
Posts: 4710 | Location: WI | Registered: February 29, 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I prefer Macoun apples, which seem to be a regional variety. A good crunch and slightly less sour than Granny Smith apples.

I use either in my pie.

But, while we are on the subject of apples, I would sponsor the felling of all Red Delicious apple trees to be made into furniture and firewood.

The Red Delicious is the worst apple in existence. The skin is bitter, the fruit turns mealy if you look at it the wrong way and the fruit isn’t appetizing even when fresh. Some joker must have thought up the name to fool the public.

They are an abomination and should be dealt with accordingly.


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Posts: 1392 | Location: Stamford, CT | Registered: July 14, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I like Honeycrisp a lot but I miss old varieties like stayman winesap, grimes golden and wolf river.

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Posts: 3688 | Location: Sunnyside of Louisville | Registered: July 04, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Great varieties already mentioned.

Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Macoun, Winesap and a good Macintosh are some of my favorites.

Any fans of the Cortland Apple? This was a regional favorite in NYS where I grew up. Lots of apple farms nearby grew these.

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Posts: 2901 | Location: Lehigh Valley, PA | Registered: March 27, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Frangas non Flectes
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I find Honeycrisp to be a little overrated. Yes, they're crispy, but the flavor doesn't knock me out.

If you want to try something different and you're sick of Moneycrisp, I highly recommend Lucy Glo apples. I tried them out last year for the first time, and they became my instant favorite. But they are not cheap. They run at Moneycrip prices or better. In my opinion, though, they are worth it. They are so good.

The white parts of the flesh taste like a nice, mild apple, and the reddish parts taste tart, like a berry. Every bite is a little different.

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Posts: 12712 | Location: Seattle-ish | Registered: February 10, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Raised on Red Delicious, now only Fuji.

Don't like tart or sour apples.
Posts: 3534 | Location: North Carolina | Registered: August 16, 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Get my pies
outta the oven!

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I’m a fan of them!

Has anyone tried Snapdragon apples? Aldi had them this year and they are really good too.

I never understood the point of the Red Delicious apple; yes they are red but never delicious. All of the Red Delicious I’ve ever tried taste like crap, they may as well be made out of plastic.

Posts: 27475 | Location: Pennsylvania | Registered: November 12, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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