There was good news, bad news and even more bad news for North Carolina apple growers this year.
The good news was that despite record rainfall, the crop yielded reasonably well, with 80 percent of normal production in some areas and up to 100 percent in others, depending on variety and location.
In Henderson County, N.C., where more than 80 percent of the state’sapples are produced, Extension Director Marvin Owings told Southeast Farm Press, this was much better than in 2012, when thanks to late spring freezes the county produced only about 40 percent of a crop.
But the bad news is that all the other apple-growing states are doing better this season too, and now the market is awash in apples. That is having a negative effect on price, though not on all segments of the apple economy.
“Actually, prices and movement for fresh fruit seem to be holding pretty well,” said Owings. “But our processing and juice prices are not good at all.”
It is associated with supply and demand, he said.
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This year, the entire East Coast has fruit, which is just the opposite of last year when only Pennsylvania had any significant production.
More bad news
And the other bad news is that not only is there pressure on the price side, but the rain lead to immense disease pressure in the orchards.
“It fell almost every day this season until August, starting back in the spring. As of now (early October), we have had close to 100 inches.”
That definitely set a record. “Our normal annual rainfall is closer to 40 to 50 inches.”
That resulted in much more incidence of disease, and the apple growers had to take steps to control it. Thiscost 15 percent to 20 percent more, frustrating for farmers.
There s another potential problem. “Too much rain can lead to a tree having damage to the root system,” he said. “But it may be next season before you see the full effects.”
To reduce disease incidence next season, Owings recommends that after harvest, farmers mow their orchards and blow the leaves out from under the trees into the rows. Usea flail mover to chew up those leaves so they will decay, and apply liquid urea to help the process.
He also advises removing all mummies hanging on the tree.
Mike Stepp of Hendersonville, N.C., who helps run the family operation Hillcrest Orchard, was planning on beginning his sanitation program soon when he spoke to Southeast Farm Press in October.
“In November, we will shred all that litter,” he said. “That will cut down on disease a lot. We have to get it out in the middles where we can shred it up with a mower.
Rare disease problem
“We had one rot that we are not accustomed to, and we had to work to control it.”
“It is called Glomerella leaf spot. It starts on the leaves and specks on the fruit. The whole tree can be defoliated. It is similar to bitter rot, which we are more familiar with.”
Both are controlled with fungicides, which Stepp applies with airblast sprayers.
All this disease control led to a higher cost of production. “We spent a lot more money on disease control than we normally would,” he said.
Hillcrest is a pick-your-own orchard covering 40 acres with about 6,000 trees. To the extent possible, visiting consumers harvest all the fruit.
“But we might sell a few apples to processors or packers if we have too many of one variety,” he said.
The rain that fell at Hillcrest Orchards didn't have a catastrophic effect on the apples.
“We actually raised a good crop,” Stepp said. “And the rain wound up about the time our (pick-your-own) season started. We have had pretty good weather since then so the rain didn't interfere with harvest.”
Stepp was well aware of the low price of apples on the open market, but because his customers pay a set price for whatever they pick, the open market doesn’t really affect him.
“We are selling our apples for the same price as last year,” he said. “We raised it a little after the 2011 crop.”
Apples were by no means the only crop in Henderson County affected by the rain. “We had millions in market losses this year,” Owings said. “The last estimate I heard was $47 million, and we are not done yet.”
Ornamentals, vegetables, pumpkins, corn and sod were just some of the farm enterprises that took a hit.