Rosy outlook for blush apples
Limousin apple growers limit their crop to 55 bins per acre to promote blush.
A box of Blush Rose Golden Delicious apples. Below, Perlim barcode scanner.
Perlim, a French growers' cooperative that packs and markets apples and walnuts, has developed a following for its "altitude-grown" Golden Delicious and receives a premium for the rosy blush that appears on a small percentage of apples each year.
"In Europe, blush apples are always associated with high sugar," said Jean Paauw, managing director of the cooperative located in Saint Aulaire of the Limousin region. Golden Delicious apples with the rosy blush can qualify for Perlim's premium grade and receive the Blush Rose sticker and a higher price. These apples have a special single-layer pack, and growers receive a premium of 30 euro-cents per kilogram (about U.S. 22 cents per pound). Golden Delicious apples with the rose sticker sell for about U.S.$6 to $7 dollars more per box than Perlim's other altitude-grown Golden Delicious.
The Perlim cooperative has about 200 grower-members with some 4,000 acres. All orchards are in the Limousin region at altitudes between 1,155 to 1,485 feet. About half of the orchards there are less than seven years old, with nearly all protected by hail nets, according to Paauw.
Two Perlim packing houses handle nearly 70,000 metric tons of apples annually. Of that, about 60,000 metric tons are Golden Delicious, with the remainder being Royal Gala, Braeburn, and Reinette grise du Canada. Perlim represents more than 70 percent of the Limousin apple production, 5 percent of the French production of Golden Delicious, and 30 percent of the altitude-grown Golden Delicious.
The name Perlim comes from two regions that the apples and walnuts come from—Perigord (walnuts) and Limousin (apples).
The percentage of apples with blush varies from year to year and depends on the temperature swings during harvest. "In some years, 2 percent of the crop has blush, while other years it may be 20 percent," Paauw said, adding that the average is around 7 to 9 percent of the crop.
The range of temperatures between day and night during fall is the primary influence that determines the percentage of blush. Nighttime temperatures must get down to at least 7°C (44.6°F) to stimulate the blush, he said. Though it's common to have night temperatures of around 33 to 35°F and day temperatures in the 70s, Mother Nature doesn't always fully cooperate, Paauw added.
Harvest starts in mid-September and lasts about three weeks.
"The only influence that growers have on blush is thinning the crop," he said. "Big crops result in very little blush, therefore, growers target yields of about 50 to 55 metric tons per hectare [50 to 55 bins per acre]. If you go 60 tons or more, the quality goes down."
Most of the Golden Delicious apples grown in the Limousin region are the clone B selection. About 25 to 30 percent of the Golden Delicious orchards are planted to the French selection called Reinders.
They also grow a French selection that is known for its high blush tendency, with about 20 percent of the crop blushed, Paauw said. But the blush from this variety is more of a red wine color instead of a rosy blush, and it tends to develop into a red-brown color when there are strong temperature variations.
"We're not sure that's the way to go," he mused. "When we get cold fall temperatures, the blush is not that attractive."
Moreover, Perlim doesn't want to pack a too high a percentage of blush apples because they would then lose the premium associated with a limited supply. Fifty percent blush of the crop would be too high, he said.
To ensure that fruit meets the stringent quality standards of the Golden Delicious appellation, some 10,000 analyses are taken annually to check both fruit quality and pesticide residues (5,000 measuring points per year).
The two packing lines also use state-of-the-art optical grading equipment, sorting fruit by size, color, exterior blemishes, and category.
A new presizing machine is in place for the 2008 harvest to help reduce labor and packing costs. "Labor is very expensive," Paauw said. "Every kilogram of fruit costs 0.12 euro per kilogram (about U.S. 8 cents per pound). While we receive a premium at the market, not all of the fruit is the premium grade bringing a top price."