College helps cider industry shine in the commonwealth

Virginia Tech senior Meg McGuire works at Foggy Ridge Cider in Dugspur, Virginia, where she helps process apples used to make hard cider.

Virginia Tech senior Meg McGuire works at Foggy Ridge Cider in Dugspur, Virginia, where she helps process apples used to make hard cider.

By Lindsay Key 

It’s been said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But one Virginia Tech student researcher is interested in a different phenomenon: how many apples fall from the tree, and how does this affect the cider?

Meg McGuire of Dublin, Virginia, a senior majoring in food science and technology, is curious how the crop yield of apple trees affects apple quality and, ultimately, the quality of hard, alcoholic cider.

Cider is one of the fastest growing segments of the nation’s alcohol beverage industry, with production rising from 9.4 million gallons in 2011 to approximately 32 million gallons in 2013, said Virginia Agriculture Secretary Todd Haymore as he announced the designation Cider Week. Thanks to a collaboration of scientists in the college, the commonwealth is poised to capitalize on the exploding hard cider industry in the U.S.

McGuire works with two faculty members — Amanda Stewart, an assistant professor of food science and technology, and Greg Peck, an assistant professor of horticulture and an Extension specialist — to better understand the optimal orchard management practices for hard cider production.

Her goal is to see how much apple yield can increase before it negatively impacts cider quality and thus help growers produce fruit that has a balance of tannins and acids to create a crisp, tart, and refreshing cider.

“In trees with higher crop loads, the nutrients and water are partitioned more sparsely than in trees with lower crop loads. We are trying to figure out exactly how this translates to cider quality,” she said.

McGuire’s field research occurs at the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Winchester, Virginia, where Peck’s research program is based.

“We are leveraging Virginia Tech’s expertise in horticulture, food science and technology, and agricultural and applied economics to develop research-based resources for the rapidly expanding cider industry in Virginia and North America,” Stewart said. “We are excited that undergraduate students like Meg are finding opportunities to contribute to the land-grant mission through our research and Extension programs.”

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