MONTPELIER, Vt. — A cold winter and trees still weary from last season’s massive apple crop have Northern New England growers eyeing a decent but not spectacular harvest this year.

Early season varieties – like Paula Red – are already ripening, prompting pick-your-own orchards to open this weekend or next week.

Vermont, the second biggest producer of apples in New England after Massachusetts, produced about 850,000 bushels of apples last year, and experts predict this year’s yield will be close to that.

“This year’s crop is a little bit down, and it’s totally variable across the state, and it’s variable within orchards even,” said Terence Bradshaw, tree fruit and viticulture specialist at the University of Vermont. “It’s really two factors. One is that the trees put out so much energy producing last year’s just incredible crop. The other thing is, yeah, we did have a cold winter.”

Genny Boyer, of Boyer’s Orchard in Monkton, estimates they’re down about a third in McIntosh apples from last year. But all the other varieties – Empire, Cortland, Northern Spy – are doing well, she said.

“The McIntosh just overproduced last year. It just went to town last year, and in fact, we gave to every food shelf we could,” she said. “It was just a whopper this last year … the orchards around this area had the same problem.”

Nationally, the harvest is predicted to hit more than 259 million bushels, an 8 percent increase over last season and the third-largest haul, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. Apple Association predicts it could be even higher – almost 264 million bushels. Washington state, the nation’s largest grower, looks like it will have a strong season, too, with 162 million bushels harvested.

Dick Fabrizio, owner of Windy Ridge Orchard in North Haverhill, New Hampshire, said the harsh winter is to blame for his crop being down about 30 percent. But, he said, the size and quality of the apples are excellent.

Jeff Timberlake, a co-owner of Ricker Hill Farm in Turner, Maine, said a rainy summer without the perils of hail from thunderstorms has his crop looking “pretty darn nice.

“With all the rain, the sizing has come along really nice,” he said.