APPLE-LOVERS face a threatened hike in jam, juice, fruit and farmhouse cider prices after the worst Irish apple harvest in living memory.
Some growers are now reporting a 70pc drop in harvest yields after a promising spring followed by a disastrous cold snap and then a miserable, rain-drenched summer.
However, Ireland's largest cider producer, Bulmers, ruled out any price hikes as it said the stockpiling of apple juice has helped 'deseasonalise' their market.
Bulmers, whose cider operation is based in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, said it keeps over 18 months of fruit juice stockpiled in giant storage tanks.
"The 2010 and 2011 harvests were quite good so they will help compensate for what has been a poor harvest this year," a spokesperson explained.
The situation facing small-scale apple farmers and cottage industry food manufacturers is much more serious.
Cork grower Maurice Gilbert of Ballyhoura Apple Farm, Co Cork, has 4,500 trees spread over eight acres. "I've heard people talking about yields being down by 30pc to 40pc. Personally, I'd say that the yields will be down by up to 70pc," he told the Irish Independent.
Another Cork producer, James Scannell, has said that his Ovens farm is facing a production drop of around 30pc.
He said it was impossible to predict at the moment whether prices will rise as a result of production shortfalls, with everything depending on the stance of the giant supermarket chains.
Irish Apple Growers Association chairman, Con Traas, said it is a very difficult situation for producers.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact Europe's major apple producers -- France, the Netherlands and Germany -- have also suffered bad harvests.
Production across Europe this year is an estimated 60pc of the bumper 2011 harvest.
Hardest-hit by the weather have been farmhouse production operations.
Even families have noticed the decimated harvest -- with one Dublin home reporting a yield of just four apples from two mature trees.