Cider is fermented apple juice and is often called ‘hard cider’ in the United States. However, worldwide, the term ‘cider’ is used most often to describe this fermented beverage and will also be the term used throughout this publication. The study results presented in this WSU fact sheet can serve as a general guide for evaluating the feasibility of establishing and producing cider apples in western Washington as of 2013. Specific assumptions were adopted for use in this study, but these assumptions may not fit every situation since production costs and returns vary across orchard operations, depending on the following factors:
- Capital, labor, and natural resources
- Crop yield
- Cultural practices
- Input prices
- Orchard size
- Cider apple prices
- Management skills
- Type and size of machinery and irrigation system
Cost estimations in this enterprise budget also vary depending on the budget’s intended use. To avoid drawing unwarranted conclusions for any particular orchard, readers should closely examine the assumptions used in this study, and adjust the data on costs and/or returns as appropriate for their specific orchard operation.
Cider Apple Production in Washington State
Common cider apple varieties grown in Washington State include Kingston Black (photo shown above), Yarlington Mill, Brown Snout, Dabinett, and Porter’s Perfection, among others (Moulton et al. 2010). There were an estimated 204 acres of cider apples produced in Washington State in 2010 and 256 acres in 2011 (Northwest Agriculture Business Center informal survey 2013). Cider apples can be produced with fewer pesticide inputs than dessert apples require since minor surface blemishes are tolerated if yield and internal fruit quality are not affected (Peck and Merwin 2008). Cider apple production in western Washington is not limited by environmentally induced diseases (for example, scab), which often limit fresh market apple production and yields in this same region.
To date, the Northwest Cider Association’s membership includes 43 commercial cideries (21 in Washington; 18 in Oregon; 1 in Montana; and 3 in British Columbia, Canada) and 9 cider apple orchards (7 in Washington; 1 in Oregon; and 1 in Montana). Cider is well suited for small-scale artisanal producers in western Washington who rely on local markets. Twelve of the association’s member cideries and 2 member orchards are located in western Washington (Northwest Cider Association 2014).
One of the major challenges commercial cider makers face, both in western Washington and at a national level, is the limited availability of the specialized apple varieties required for making quality cider. Cider apples are sorted into four categories (Cider Advisory Committee 1956): bittersweet – high in tannin, low in acid; bittersharp – high in tannin, high in acid; sharp – low in tannin, high in acid; and sweet – low in tannin, low in acid.
The bittersweet and bittersharp varieties are used to make high quality, full-bodied ciders. Cider drinkers tend to develop a more sophisticated palate that enables them to appreciate the more complex flavors of traditional ciders (Merwin et al. 2008). When producing high quality cider, several factors should be considered, including cider apple varieties, fermentation procedures, and laboratory juice analyses, among others. For more information on cider apple production, including rootstock selection, pest management, harvest, and other cultural practices, see Hard Cider Production and Orchard Management (Moulton et al. 2010).
As the production of cider continues to expand, the demand for specialty cider apples will also expand (Merwin et al. 2008). As such, growers will need reliable and objective information on the costs of establishing and producing apples for cider. This publication provides information on the economic feasibility of establishing and producing cider apples in western Washington, including the cost of equipment, materials, supplies, and the labor required to establish a producing cider apple orchard. It also provides the price and yield levels needed to make cider apple production a profitable enterprise.