(Nov. 19) Changes in federal apple grade standards will take effect in mid-December, culminating an 11-year effort to update the rules to reflect industry practices.

Perhaps the most significant change in the new apple grades will allow red and golden delicious apples to meet either minimum diameter or minimum weight requirements. Previously, those varieties were required to meet a minimum diameter threshold.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule, published in the Nov. 19 Federal Register and effective a month later, also specifies 12 varieties that will continue to be judged on color standards.

That list, which struck from the list apple varieties now out of vogue, still includes red delicious, red rome, empire, idared, winesap, jonathan, stayman, McIntosh, cortland, rome beauty, delicious and york.

All other varieties will have no color requirements in determining grade, although the color requirements may be specified between marketers, the USDA said. That allows plenty of latitude in marketing popular bicolored apples like gala and fuji.

The changes in apple grading standards shouldn’t have a big impact on the everyday buying and selling of apples, said John Rice, sales manager for Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa.

The grade change that allows elongated red and golden delicious apples to meet weight instead of diameter standards should benefit western U.S. growers, he said. Eastern U.S. apple producers generally grow a rounder delicious apple, he said.

Even with the changes in the federal standards, he said most apple shippers are held to higher and more specific customer specifications than simply minimum federal standards.

“In terms of keeping customers happy, most of us have to meet specific customer standards; it doesn’t much matter what the USDA standard is,” he said. He said some buyers will even reject loads based on their own standards, though technically buyers are supposed to use USDA standards as a measure of acceptance.

“Every shipper knows that if you try to make a good customer keep a load they don’t want, it may be the last load you sell them,” he said.

Customers can specify, for example, how many apples they want in a 3-pound bag, which is not specified in USDA standards.

The U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., requested the proposed revisions to apple grade standards, and the Federal Register notice said the USDA and U.S. Apple have been working for 11 years to update the standards to reflect modern marketing. The new standards may be viewed at http:www.ams.usda.gov/fv/fvstand.htm.

The standards are voluntary, the USDA noted. There are no regulatory provisions that require the use of these standards, with the exception of the Export Apple Act, in which exported apples must be U.S. No. 1 or higher.