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Apple crop looks good, though drought is a threat

Apple farmers listen to extension agent Marvin Owings during a pre-harvest apple tour on Tuesday. Apple farmers listen to extension agent Marvin Owings during a pre-harvest apple tour on Tuesday.

DANA — Despite an Easter morning freeze that wiped out some early varieties, Henderson County apple growers are guardedly optimistic about this year’s crop and the market price.

“It’s real good,” Dana grower Tony Hill said of his crop. “I’ve got actually got one of the best crops I’ve ever had except in Polk County. In Polk County, it’s so dry. I actually saw an article in the Tryon Bulletin that said it’s the driest summer down there since 2006. The rainfall had only been 1.57 inches in the last three months where they gauge it down there. Fruit down there is half as big as what it is in Henderson County. It ought to be twice as big as what it is here. Other than that, the fruit in Henderson County looks great.”
The dry weather is a threat. If it doesn’t rain, apples may stop growing. That risks a demotion from the more profitable fresh apple market to juice apple status. Growers are just now ramping up picking of early varieties like Galas and Ginger golds.
“If it don’t rain soon the ground will start pulling the moisture back out of the apple and they won’t move,” Hill said. “They’ll just sit there and won’t get any bigger.”
Edneyville grower Greg Nix said he was pleased with his crop so far but didn’t have a sense yet of the market price for fresh apples or juice apples. "It's too early," he said.
Jerred Nix, another Edneyville grower, is picking a block of galas he and his father, Jeff, grew in a high-yield trellis system.
“They look extremely good,” he said. “Red Delicious are good, Romes are good, Grannies are good, Stamens are good. The Goldens are light and the Mutsus are light and the Fugis are light. Every grower you talk to has got a different crop” because the Easter freeze caused  spotty damage, heavily damaging some orchards and sparing others. “It’s the craziest year I’ve ever seen.”
Buyers for Peterson Farms, the largest privately owned fruit processor in Michigan, have been in Henderson County this week.
“They quoted 25 cents for Gala and 15 cent for Goldens,” Hill said.
Trey Enloe, president of the Blue Ridge Apple Growers, grows apples on Pilot Mountain in Edneyville.
“North Carolina has a little bit of an advantage getting a jump on the rest of the country so prices usually start out higher,” he said. “We’re definitely a little bit drier than we should be.”
The dry weather has reduced the disease pressure from moisture related fungus, he said.
Apple farmers gathered Tuesday evening for a pre-harvest tour at the Dana farm of Wayne Pace said their crop looks good so far. Barring hailstorms, continued drought or a market plunge, they thought the harvest and income would be good.