Evaluation of Apple Cultivars for Hard Cider Production in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2020: $8,980.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Todd Parlo
Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard


  • Fruits: apples
  • Additional Plants: trees


  • Crop Production: varieties and cultivars
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: feasibility study, value added, whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture

    Proposal summary:

    We propose to evaluate apple cultivars for potential use in hard cider production, especially varieties that thrive in northern climates and under organic/sustainable growing practices.

    The hard cider market is growing exponentially, but there is a scarcity of suitable, domestically grown apples to meet the demand.  To successfully capitalize on this new market, growers need to know which apples to plant and which apples already in their orchards are suitable for hard cider production.  There is little unbiased and scientific data available to farmers interested in supplying fruit for this distinctive market.  Current information is limited to nursery catalogs/websites with a commercial interest and University/Extension publications that are meager in terms of numbers of cultivars assessed and details.

    Our orchard in Walden, Vermont (zone 3) will serve as our test site as we cultivate more than 600 distinct apple varieties.  While we keep records routinely, this project will allow us time and resources to employ proper methodology for data collection, assessment and dissemination of findings to growers.

    A selection of 200 trees in our orchard will have fruit evaluation including brix (sugar) content for fermentation, pH, titrable acidity, tannin content, fruit quality, yield, and tree performance (disease/pest issues, biennialism, etc.).

    Since some of these cultivars have multiple uses, our project findings will likely benefit more than just hard cider/wine makers.

    Outreach will include speaking engagements, workshops, our farm website, internet blogs, announcements to relevant organizations (including extension services and universities) for distribution to regional meetings, social media, listservs and podcasts.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to provide crucial information regarding apple cultivars as it relates to the expanding cider market. 

    As an orchardist, consultant, and nurseryman, I have seen the emerging cider market drastically alter the apple varieties being planted. Since very little data exists, many farmers are making poor choices and costly mistakes, often planting too tender of a variety for their region, or planting cultivars with limited use (many cider varieties have no other use beyond hard cider).  Our data will make it much easier for growers to make informed choices by reviewing our data and finding uses for each variety, including those that will be desired by the cider market and grow well in the region.

    We will collect, analyze and publish data on 200 apple varieties in our zone 3 orchard.  Data to be collected includes tree performance, fruit qualities, readings from juice analysis, fruit assessments of pH and brix (sugar) level readings, tannin observations, acid titration analysis, and aromatics. Orchard performance assessment includes disease susceptibility, hardiness, and cropping.  Our recommendations will also consider marketing flexibility, meeting hard cider/cider demand, appropriateness for the northeast region and necessary growing practices for success.

    Information will be expressed both in database form and narrative recommendations.  

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.