Assessing the Economic Feasibility of Growing Specialized Apple Cultivars for Sale to Commercial Hard Cider Producers

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This publication describes a set of associated budget spreadsheets that utilize a systematic means to assess the feasibility of growing specialty apple cultivars for sale to commercial hard cider producers. 

Hard cider is a growing part of the alcoholic beverage industry. It is made by fermenting apple juice with yeast and typically has an alcohol content between 5 and 10 percent by volume. To make a premium hard apple cider product, commercial cider operations, called “cideries,” want apple cultivars with high tannin, high acid, and/or high sugar content. Few apple cultivars satisfy all of these characteristics, so cider makers often blend multiple cultivars to achieve a desired flavor profile. 

Some apple cultivars commonly grown in commercial orchards, such as Albemarle Pippin, Winesap, and Granny Smith, can be used to make hard cider — often as part of a blend. However, many cideries are also seeking specialized apple cultivars with high tannin content or other characteristics that make them unfit for most other market destinations. 

We have created two budgetary decision aids to assist growers in determining the feasibility of growing apples for hard cider production. A partial budget for growing multipurpose apples (defined as apple cultivars that potentially have multiple market destinations, e.g., hard cider, fresh market, or processing) and an enterprise budget for planting and growing hard cider apples were developed to help growers analyze the revenues, expenses, and risks associated with producing  special apple cultivars for sale to cideries. Both budgetary decision aids were created using Excel spreadsheets and are readily available as a free download with a built-in user’s manual.

To estimate the costs of production for growing hard cider apples in Virginia, we surveyed growers, considered our colleagues’ and our own professional experience, and conducted a thorough literature review. The partial and enterprise budget models provide insight into the potential profitability of growing hard cider apples.

Additionally, both sets of budget worksheets are completely customizable so that specific details about your operation can be input. For example, the tree density per acre, orchard size, spray and fertilizer costs, potential yields, and estimated price per bushel can be input into the budget worksheets. This flexibility allows these budget models to provide information for specific sites, operators, and cultivars.

Jarrad Farris
Greg Peck
Gordon Groover
Virginia Cooperative Extension