MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Apple pickers are descending on New England's orchards for the early varieties as growers around the region predict a strong rebound from a dismal 2012.
Weather conditions have been favorable to apple production this year, with minimal late frosts, a wet early summer and recent dry conditions. The weather contrasts with conditions a year ago when a warm late April coaxed out the apple blossoms but was followed by a killing frost in many areas.
Bill Suhr, owner of the Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, Vt., said the moisture early on helped increase the size of the fruit and the dry conditions now are probably contributing to sugar content, making many of the apples sweeter.
"We already have people doing pick your own," said Alison Dayton of the Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury, Vt. "Last year, we didn't have any."
For the region, orchardists expect a good crop this fall — about 3.5 million 42-pound boxes, just under the 3.6 million-box average over the last five years, the New England Apple Association says.
Likewise, the forecast for apple production nationwide calls for an upswing. Industry group USApple says apple production for the U.S. is expected to be 13 percent higher than last year. The 2013 forecast calls for 243.3 million boxes — each box containing 42 apples — about 9 percent above the five-year average.
Although the nation's leading apple producer, Washington state, is expected to see its 2013 crop fall below the five-year average by about 10 percent, both No. 2 New York and No. 3 Michigan should see big increases over a poor 2012.
New York apple production could be 87 percent greater than in 2012, while Michigan's forecast calls for a nearly 1,000 percent jump from a record low last year.
In New England, Paula Red, Ginger Gold and other early varieties are already being picked, and some orchards said the MacIntosh apples were coming in just in time for Labor Day weekend.
"People are very excited that they are so plentiful this year," Dayton said. "We will start selling cider Sept. 1."
At Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook, N.H., owner Tim Bassett said he and his wife, Amy, were thrilled about the prospects.
"For us, it's a very good year," he said. "We have no complaints — very heavy Macs, Macouns, Honey Crisp."
Bassett also touted the farm's heritage varieties, including Roxbury Russetts, which he described as "the oldest apple in America."