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Short crop high in quality, growers say

Some apple crops, some are bad and some are in between.

Apple growers categorize as something else altogether — mystifying. It’s not a year with a widespread wipeout caused by an early season freeze. So far, hail damage has been light. The market price is holding up, although an oversupply in Washington state combined with China tariffs could change that. But growers say they’ve found that, either because of one very cold morning on March 17, a frost in April or last year’s record rainfall, patches of their orchards didn’t produce apples at all.

“One or two trees will be loaded and some ain’t got nothing,” said Jerred Nix, who grows around 100 acres of apples. “There is a lot of tree damage but it was from all last year. I just came from an orchard that had a big circle right in the middle of it. It was damaged. It just depends on where you had low spots. You might have had a drainage ditch and it was stopped up.
“I’ve got a big block of romes on Bearwallow that’s got a wet spot for no reason, on the hillside,” he added. “There’s no rhyme or reason. But hellfire, we had 105 inches of rain last year. Average rainfall here is 36 inches.”

Grower Kenny Barnwell said nearly all farmers are seeing a short crop.
“We had a (NC Apple Growers) board meeting three weeks ago and the consensus is about 60-65 percent of a crop in North Carolina, which is basically Henderson County,” he said. “The quality of the crop is pretty durn good. The quantity is not going to be what it really needs to be. … There’s just places where the cold weather settled where there’s holes in the crop, and it’s location specific. The romes look pretty decent. They may make enough bushels to offset that (short) number on total bushels. Every orchard I’ve been in has got a place that doesn’t have the apples it should have.”
It’s unlike any year he can recall.
“In 39 crops, almost 40, I’ve never seen two alike and this might be the strangest one,” he said. “This year I’ve seen some of the best quality, prettiest apples I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen some of the dog ugliest thing you ever seen. With the fruit bud I had in March I should have had a big crop and I don’t have a big crop. I have a decent crop.”

Now ripe: galas and honey crisp


Trey Enloe, who runs Lewis Creek Farms, says things are starting out OK.
“We’re picking a little bit of galas and a little bit of honey crisp trying to fill out orders,” he said. The early harvest is supplying roadside stands and some buyers in the Piedmont and Eastern North Carolina.
Like Nix and Barnwell, he sees good quality but less than a full yield.
“It’s looking pretty good so far,” he said. “Some trees are loaded pretty good and some are a little light.”
Enloe also runs a cider press that produces juice that the family sells to hard cider makers here and out of state. It helps monetize the lesser quality apples that fetch far less than store- and fruit-stand quality fresh apples.
“We press our own apples and we buy some from friends and neighbors,” he said. “The goal is to try to keep as much as we can with local farmers. We give up a little bit of margin and pay a little bit more for apples for our hard cider. … We don’t have a (fresh juice or baby food) processor anymore so it kind of gives us a place to go if we don’t have fresh apples.” He says he pressed around 1,000 bins of apples last year.

Drier spring boosts crop

Terry Kelley, the county extension director, has heard, too, about the nature of the crop.
“None of us have really come up with a good explanation,” he said. “There are two or three things, for it to be spotty like it is. We didn’t have any real cold weather. Pollination’s part of it. … I think we may have seen some trees particularly in low lying areas that may have lost some root mass and just couldn’t sustain as big a crop this year as they have been. We don’t really have any tangible evidence of that but it just makes sense from plant physiology.”
“It’s probably a combination of things,” he added. “From what I’ve heard from some of the growers I’ve talked to, they don’t really know either. But every season presents its unique things and that seems to be something that we haven’t seen a lot of. That has affected overall yield.”
A drier spring and summer has helped produce good quality.
“I think the apple crop in general, we are much happier this year because we haven’t had 100 inches of rain,” Kelley said. “It probably won’t be heavy in terms of yield, but it’s probably one of the better quality crops we’ve had in a while. We’ve gotten rain up till April and it looked like it might be the same old same old from last year. Then it became more moderate — not to say we would’ve liked it better a little drier. I think the quality is probably good, we’re probably going to have more apples we can sell.”

As the nation's largest apple producing state starts harvesting, the market could be overloaded with apples. Washington state had one its best yields ever last year and it opens this season with coolers still filled with the crop. Combined with the global trade world, that creates uncertainty in the market.

"We don’t export (to China) but Washington state does so they’re having a lot of excess apples," Kelley said. "They started the season with excess apples. If they have tens of millions of bushels in storage and they start dumping those on the juice market and also the ones they can put out as fresh, it does become a problem for us.”
Kelley likes the way the Apple Festival promotes sales not only downtown but at roadside stands.
“People like Henderson County apples,” he said. “They know the flavor’s going to be excellent and the quality is going to be good.”
Enloe, the Lewis Creek grower, said amen to that.
“If you’re writing an Apple Festival article make sure you tell everybody there will be plenty of good apples out there,” he said.
On Main Street or out in the country, from Coston’s to Skytop, the apple stands “will be all loaded up — from us or anyone else.”