Virginia Apple Growers Battle Weather, Stink Bugs

November 10, 2010

It's hard to think of anything else that could have gone wrong with this year's apple crop.

Diane Kearns, treasurer of Fruit Hill Orchard Inc., Frederick County's largest apple-growing operation, blames the less-than-stellar harvest on a late frost, hail damage, extreme summer heat and drought, and an infestation of crop-damaging brown marmorated stink bugs.

"It was, generally, a really bad year," Kearns said. For some growers, it was devastating, she added.

Growers in the Winchester area - Virginia's largest apple-producing region - have pretty much wrapped up this year's harvest.

Fruit Hill picked about 900,000 bushels of apples, Kearns said, down from more than 1.2 million bushels picked last year by the family-owned corporation.

Many apple growers on the East Coast had markedly smaller crops this year.

John Marker of Marker-Miller Orchards in Frederick County attended a recent meeting of producers at Knouse Foods Co-op Biglersville, Pa.

"They were a million bushels off what the growers had estimated," said Marker, who serves on Knouse's cooperative board. "It just wasn't there."

Statewide, the apple crop is expected to be down 8 percent from last year's 245 million pounds, according to Herman Ellison of the Virginia Agricultural Statistics Service in Richmond.

The harvest is moving more slowly that in past years, Ellison

At this point last year, 100 percent of the fall apples and 82 per-cent of the winter apples had been picked. Only 92 percent of the fall crop and 79 percent of the winter crop have been harvested so far this year, he said.

Tony Wolf, director of the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agriculture and Research Center in Frederick County, said the lack of water was a major culprit behind the smaller size of this year's apples. While the northern Shenandoah Valley is generally the driest part of the state, this year's severe drought hurt the apple crop.

Two significant frosts in April and one in May also damaged the emerging fruit. And the excessive summer heat affected apple color and often caused sun scald on the fruit.

"There was a lot going on from the climate standpoint," Wolf said.

Kearns is concerned that the perfect storm of troubles could put more growers out of business.

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