Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Apple Festival 2013: Crop looks good

A year ago, apple growers limped into Labor Day weekend with a very short crop after suffering the second spring freeze in five years. The April freeze followed by summer hailstorms wiped out about 60 percent of the county's signature farm commodity.

This year it's a different story. Even though nature again dealt challenges —this year a record pace of rainfall — the apple crop is far better.
"Growers are looking at anywhere between 70 and 100 percent of a full crop depending on the variety and location," said Marvin Owings Jr., director of the Henderson County Cooperative Extension Service. "They started with ginger gold and that picked off pretty well. Growers are picking as we speak. Some growers are actually picking some golden delicious for processing right now."
The early price has been welcome, too.
Peterson Farms, a large fruit processor in Michigan, has been in Henderson County buying truckloads of apples for slicing.
"Earlier this month and the week before they were buying galas for 45 cents a pound," Owings said. When 15 cents a pound is decent, 45 cents has farmers rejoicing.
"He's come in here swinging a big stick and actually making some of these other boys get their price up a little bit," grower Jerry Nix said of Peterson Farms buyer.

Sunshine speeds ripening
Nix, who grows about 40 acres of apples in Bearwallow and 80 acres on Sugarloaf Mountain, said the high price wouldn't last.
"Last year big money was 30 cents and that was unheard of," he said. "This year 45 cents.... But it was good through Friday."
Farmers expect the price to drop as apples ripen in Virginia, Pennsylvania and other apple-growing areas to the north.
"Our price is going to drop drastically," Nix said. "It's always nice to have an early market. Our galas were late but some of this stuff that shouldn't be picked till September we're picking them today because the sugar's right in them."
The deluge of rain — the area was 2 feet above normal through July — forced growers to spend about 20 percent more to protect the crop because the rain and humidity invited fungus. Harmful bugs, on the other hand, have been largely grounded.
"In my opinion it hasn't been as bad as it had been in the past because of the rain," Nix said. "There hasn't been any weather to fly in."
"Generally, overall right now everything's pretty good. Some buyers are extremely high," he added.
"The best thing for us right now is the sunshine." In the run of rainy and cloudy days "stuff had quit growing big time." Four days of sunshine have helped.
"We quit picking (in one block) last Tuesday because of the size and when we started back today there was a big difference," he said.
Randy Newman, who grows apples next to Blue Ridge Community College, has started picking galas, honey crisp and other early varieties. Honey crisp is a challenging apple to grow but farmers need a lot of them because they're the hottest seller at the Apple Festival. Newman Farms has one of 15 stands on Main Street selling apples during this weekend.
"The Apple Festival is usually a good kickoff," Newman said. "It get things started, gets everybody thinking about apples."
Like Jerry Nix, he welcomes the warm dry weather. He had to chuckle when someone asked how many times he'd gotten drenched this summer.
"Too many to count," he said. "I've taken a lot of showers. If I'd carried a bar of soap I'd had it made."

Want to learn more?
The annual Apple Orchard Tour is 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday. Meet at the Cooperative Extension office at Jackson Park and board a bus. The tour includes a section of different apple varieties, a packing house in Dana and Justus Orchards, a U-pick farm in Fruitland. Register by calling 828.697.4891.