Iowa Public Television

 

Freeze Ends Apple Season Early for Many

posted on October 5, 2007


TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Most years, the apples growing in William Gale's orchard have him making cider through the fall and into the holidays.

But this year Gale had to ask another grower for apples so he could squeeze out a few gallons. A long-lasting freeze in April wiped out the apple crop for most growers in the southern half of the state, forcing them to buy apples from other growers.

"We'll have enough to make one more batch and that's going to be it," said Gale, who has grown fruit for decades at his farm in Xenia near Dayton. "When Mother Nature shuts you down, there's nothing you can do."

The lack of apples has driven up wholesale prices, and customers who normally pick their own apples in some parts of the state will be shut out this fall. Cider and fresh caramel apples may be hard to come by, too.

Apples are Ohio's largest fruit crop. A year ago, perfect conditions produced a huge crop worth about $35 million.

"It was a Cinderella year," said Doug Yeary, who runs an orchard in Muskingum County in southeast Ohio. "This year it struck midnight."

The crop could be down by about 30 percent, according to the Ohio Fruit Growers Marketing Association.

Yeary did not lose his entire crop, but even what's left isn't of a very good quality. "We'd be better off not having it," he said.

His apples are smaller and not as sweet, and half of them are being tossed. "I don't ever want to go through this again," he said.

Orchards in northern Ohio fared better, and some have been sending truckloads to growers who lost their entire crop.

"A lot of the apples are sold as soon as we get them picked," said Ken Williams, who manages the orchard for Eshleman Fruit Farm in Clyde outside Dayton.

Usually, the farm is able to stockpile apples through most of the winter, but this year there is so much demand that few will likely be stored, he said.

Growers all over southern Ohio, along with a few from West Virginia, Indiana and Illinois, have been calling MacQueen's orchard near Toledo looking to buy apples, said owner Bob MacQueen.

"Some of them are 100 percent wiped out," he said. "They're desperate."

Most of MacQueen's apples, though, go to warehouses where they are distributed to the big grocery chains.

Shane Bietry, who runs the orchard at Brumbaugh Fruit Farm in Arcanum in northern Ohio, said he feels fortunate that about a third of its crop was spared. "We're luckier than most," he said.


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