Freeze, drought hurt apple crop

Freeze, drought hurt apple crop

CHAMPAIGN — Curtis Orchard will have plenty of apples to sell this year, despite a year that was hard on the local crop.

Randy Graham, co-owner of the orchard on South Duncan Road, said the orchard produced "10 percent or less" of what it typically does, as a result of an early spring, a freeze on April 11 and the summer drought.

But he arranged to order apples from other areas so the orchard should have "full shelves of apples all season."

"As far as apples go, the drought hasn't affected us as much as the early spring and the freeze," Graham said.

"The freeze sharply reduced the apple crop all across the U.S. It was probably one of the shortest crops in history, all the way from New York to Nebraska," he said. "Michigan was hard-hit."

But Graham said Curtis Orchard is a big enough seller of apples that it could scour nearby states to bring in apples.

"We have eight varieties on the shelf right now, and I anticipate we'll always have five or six varieties this season," he said.

Some area orchards, such as Wolfe Orchard northeast of Monticello, aren't open for business this year.

"This is the first time (we've not been open) since we've been in business, about 20 years," said Ronald Wolfe. "There have been some years when we had some reductions of apples — where we haven't had a complete crop — but we'd never had a complete failure."

Wolfe has about 400 trees representing 68 varieties of apples, but this year he has no apples to sell.

"I keep getting calls from people who say they can't find apples anywhere in central Illinois," he said.

At Kleiss Produce Farm west of Villa Grove, Bob Kleiss said that from his 1,500 apple trees, he will get only about five bushels of apples this year.

"Apples and peaches got frozen for us this spring," he said.

Graham said it's normal for Champaign County to get a freeze on April 11.

"What's not normal is to have apples hanging on the tree already," he said.

Drought was another "hammer" to the crop. Graham said drought wasn't as big a factor as the freeze, "apart from the cost of watering."

Unlike some orchards in the Midwest, Curtis Orchard is set up for irrigation. The ability to water should help next year's crop by pushing up soil moisture.

"You have to have soil moisture to produce next year's buds," he said.

Consumers can expect to pay more for apples, given the national shortage this year, Graham said.

"Prices are running higher, and it depends on the variety. They're running 25 percent, sometimes 30 percent more, depending on the availability," he said.

"We still have bushels of Jonathans at 79 cents a pound, which is not bad," he said. "It's not out of reach. Apples can still be a major part of the diet" at that price.

Though small, the apple crop is coming in two to three weeks early. Curtis already has early Fujis, Jonathans and Goldens on the shelves.

Some varieties of apples did better than others this year, Graham said.

"Jonathans, Red Delicious and some Goldens have fared better, as has an Illinois-developed Apple, the Gold Rush. But minor varieties, such as the Arkansas Black, didn't do well," he said.

As for other crops, Graham said "we've got a tremendous pumpkin crop, one of the best ever. Pumpkins have been positively affected — there's been less disease pressure," he said, adding that irrigation resulted in good quality and quantity.

The orchard is open seven days a week through Dec. 20, closing only for Thanksgiving. 

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