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Proposed legislation expected to boost apple production in NY state

Sen. Charles Schumer and a group of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing a bill that would lower the federal tax on hard apple cider. New York is the second largest apple grower in the nation, and the idea behind the bill is to give another source of income for small apple growers.

At LynOaken Farms in Medina, General Manager Darrell Oakes explains there are roughly 300 varieties of apples in the self-harvest section.

“I think the oldest one here is an apple called Decio," Oakes said. "It’s from A.D. 450 at the tail end of the Roman Empire in Italy. We also have one called White Winter Pearmain and that’s from the 1200s in England. Two rows over is an apple called Esopus Spitzenburg, and that is known in the literature as Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple,” said Oakes.

Oakes says growing so many different apples helps LynOaken identify potential varieties for crushing into hard cider.

“If you think back into the 1800s, the majority of the apples on the homestead were utilized to make hard cider," Oakes said. "Quite often, trees were planted as seedlings and so whatever came up was what you got. Oftentimes you got fairly astringent, small apples like this one here called Yates, but they made great hard cider because they had some tannic structure and they were easy to ferment."

Republican Congressman Chris Collins is sponsoring the Cider Industry Deserves Equal Regulation Act or CIDER Act. He says proposed changes to the tax code would result in additional demand for local produce and relief for craft operators.

“Apples ferment at different alcohol contents," Collins said. "In doing an analysis, it seems that 8.5 percent alcohol content is a more reasonable reflection of hard cider. So, the bill would increase the limit from seven percent to 8.5 percent, allowing the hard cider to be taxed more in line with beer. The other issue is carbonation. In some cases, adding carbonation improves the taste, but today if you do that, it’s taxed and treated as champagne."

The proposal also allows cider makers to use pears in cider production, which is currently prohibited. Darrell Oakes says the CIDER Act would make the playing field fairer for its producers.

“One of the things that we're looking for in terms of the changes in cider legislation is to kind of bring back the ability for producers to create ciders in various forms and ways from some of these older apples, but also from the more modern varieties,” says Oakes.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the CIDER Act by the end of this legislative session. In the meantime, LynOaken Farms is paying close attention to feedback from customers about which apples are likely candidates for turning into hard cider.

Ashley is a Buffalo native, and is in her second stint as reporter at WBFO. During her first tenure at the station, Ashley covered a variety of issues in the western New York region and earned an Associated Press award for team coverage on “Same Sex Marriage in New York.” Ashley has also worked as an anchor/reporter at WBEN in Buffalo and WBTA in Batavia.