COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Thousands of juice apples could rot in upstate South Carolina and part of Georgia because growers are refusing to pick and sell them for a price they say is unfair.

Round Mountain Apple Orchards, the largest grower in Oconee County, S.C., recently started dumping thousands of juice apples after being offered a price that is 40 percent less than what was expected at the beginning of the year.

``It's so cheap, why fool with it?,'' said Steven Moore, part owner of the family business that has been around since 1905. ``You get tired. It's time for people to stand up.''

Moore has been joined by Hunnicut's Fine Fruit and grower Deaver Lee of Georgia in what they refer to as a ``Boston Tea Party'' for the small farmer. An apple processor based in Virginia set the price of juice apples at 5 cents a pound and other processors were expected to follow.

Moore and other growers said they had expected 8 cents a pound.

Fresh apples sold in stores sell wholesale for about 12 cents a pound, while processing apples, which go into applesauce or pies, sell for 7 cents to 9 cents per pound. Otherwise-edible juice apples sell for less because of the size of the fruit or blemishes.

``You never get the value of your fruit,'' said James Hunnicut, a grower since 1964. ``It's the big company ripping off the farmer.''

Besides battling with weather conditions in the United States, farmers must also compete with apple juice concentrate from Argentina, Brazil and other countries that drive down the price of juice apples, the growers say.

Clemson University extension agent Robert Head said the price for juice apples this year could drop as low as 3 cents per pound.

``Some will knuckle down and sell for that price,'' Head said. ``Others, for the first time are saying, `We'll refertilize our fields with those apples.'''

The fluctuation in price happens every year, and it is the small farmer who usually is shortchanged, Moore and Hunnicut said.

``You can understand hail and freeze, that's part of the business'' Hunnicut said. ``When it comes to a man thing like this it hurts. We just can't stand it anymore.''

Virginia-based National Fruit Product Co. says the price reflects the market. ``Juice apples are very plentiful this year,'' company spokesman Herb Glass said.

Head said weather conditions across the East Coast have produced an abundance of the low-grade apples.

``This is a unique situation,'' said Larry Davenport, executive director for the Processed Apples Institute in Atlanta. ``They've (small farmers) always found a market for their apples until right now.''

``You're talking about a classic supply-and-demand situation,'' he said.

The protest will hardly dent South Carolina's expected total apple crop of 55 million pounds this year and a national crop of 10.5 billion pounds. Still, Moore said, ``look at the Boston Tea Party. It wasn't a lot of tea, but it made a statement.''