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Growers begin 2013 apple harvest

Doug Marshall stands among boxes of galas in his Dana orchard. Doug Marshall stands among boxes of galas in his Dana orchard.

DANA — Doug Marshall used a tractor and a lift to load boxes of apples on to a truck, grinding deep into the soft brown mud and enduring one more rainy day in a summer of record rain.

Marshall is one of the lucky ones.
In the French Broad Valley across Henderson County, Marshall's vegetable and grain growing brethren are adding up losses and hoping for disaster relief checks to get them through a season that farmers hope to forget.
Had Marshall ever seen a rainy year like this one?
"No, he said. "I don't want to see it again. Once in a lifetime is enough."
With the help of a crew, Marshall was harvesting a large block of gala apples at his farm on Lane Road in the apple country on Monday. He owned a tool and die company for years and farmed part-time. "I sold it so I could grow apples fulltime," he said.
He grows Gala, Red Delicious and Pink Lady apples on 52 acres.
Thanks to the rain, he has had to spray for fungus and bugs more often. Thanks to the rain, he spent $1,000 on a three loads of gravel to make his orchard roads drivable. Most of the new rock has already been churned underground by the tractors. Thanks to the rain and cool weather, galas are one to two weeks later than usual, which cuts the price because that means Henderson County apples don't have the early market to themselves. Thanks to the rain, Marshall has been more often drenched than dry this year.
In spite of it all, Marshall has a pretty crop of galas. The county's agriculture extension director, Marvin Owings, called them some of the best looking he'd ever seen.
Marshall sells through Apple Wedge packers, which will place his 18-bushel boxes of apples in cold storage for a few days before grading, bagging and shipping them to stores. His apples are table grade, high quality enough to appeal to consumers in the produce section. They bring more per pound that juice or process grade apples.
Marshall, 68, is the son of apple and produce farmers. Despite the rain, he keeps on with a good outlook.
"Actually I enjoy growing apples," he said. "I wake up every morning with a smile on my face."

Millions in crop loss

If Marshall represents a success story, the tales of woe in 2013 are widespread.
The Asheville-based National Climatic Data Center issued a report last week showing that Asheville's rainfall total of almost 52 inches was 24 inches above normal. "Assuming normal precipitation amounts for the remainder, 2013 is well on its way to breaking the record for wettest year in Asheville," the weather agency said.
Besides higher spray bills, farmers are seeing "tremendous disease pressure" and trees that will die because their root systems have drowned.
"I'm surprised to see the effects of this this soon," he said.
Owings is working with all farmers countywide to compile damage estimates from wipeouts of tomato, peppers, hay and other crops.
"The verdict is still out as far as the amount of damage that we've gotten from this excessive rain," he said. "We won't know the full effect until next spring or summer." The total already known, he estimated, "would be in the millions for sure," he said. "We are planning to meet next Wednesday at the ASCS office to do an update on the crop disaster."
Because the federal farm bill is hung up in Congress, farmers have no immediate hope for relief.
"As far as any disaster help, the only thing that's available presently is low-interest loans," he said. "I don't want that to discourage the growers from not reporting those losses; that's real important. I just hope that September brings us some different weather; that's all you can hope for.
"Nobody alive has ever seen weather like this."