A mild, dry winter has yielded a prolonged blooming season and an uneven crop, but apple farmers nonetheless are expressing more optimism these days about the outlook for their iconic piece of Sonoma County.The apple harvest has begun, with workers on 12-foot ladders this week loading their picking bags with red-striped Gravensteins. The harvest traditionally begins with gravs, the earliest ripening and most-touted variety in the county. But this year’s season is expected to go deep into fall with such “late apple” varieties as golden delicious, Jonathans and Romes.The farmers’ optimism, coming after decades of declines, seems largely due to a sizable jump in the price paid this year for organic, processed apples. But some boosters also point to consumers’ strong loyalty for local gravs, a popular pie and juice apple. And they note a growing interest in locally produced hard apple cider.“Right now it’s doing much better than it has in several years,” said Randy Roberts, an organic apple farmer near Sebastopol. He credited the county’s only remaining apple processor, Manzana Products of Graton, with creating a growing market for organic apple juices, sauces and other products.“Without Manzana being here,” Roberts said, “we probably would not be in business.Manzanna has increased the price paid for organic apples by about 14 percent this year, said general manager Mark Fitzgerald. It is the sixth year of increased prices for a business where 95 percent of the product uses organic fruit.“Without the growers, we’ve got nothing,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re finally at a point where they can start making some money.” It’s upbeat talk for a west county industry that has been losing ground for more than half a century.
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source: The Press Democrat