AGRIBUSINESS: Apple Orchards Still Recovering From 2012 Freeze

Iowa isn’t exactly known for it’s apple production, but around 1,000 acres are devoted to orchards around the state. According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2013, 7.3 million pounds of apples were picked in Iowa.

Only 700,000 were harvested in 2012. Just as the apple trees were blooming, a hard frost swept through the Midwest. Apple grower Bryan Etchen at Iowa Orchard on Meredith Drive in Urbandale was directly impacted.

He says, “Everybody that I talk to lost 90% of their fruit, which makes caring for the trees not a very good financial prospect, with only 10% of a crop on the trees, but you have to do it anyway, to keep the health of the tree.”

Etchen has a few other orchards around the state, and he made it, barely, but found that 2013 brought its own set of challenges.

After a hard freeze like that he says, “The tree tends to store up a lot of energy and carbohydrates, so that the following year, it tries to overproduce.”

The apple crop last year was massive, but Etchen’s trees aren’t the only ones still recovering; apple trees on the farm of State FSA Executive Director John Whitaker were also frostbitten in 2012.

“One tree did set on, Jonathan apples, and I would take those little apples and cut them, and they were black in the center; they had been frozen right in the bloom.” He says 2012 hurt a lot of the Midwest, “This took out the cherry crop in Michigan, it took out apple crops in Iowa, it took out berry crops in Utah.”

Etchen says he expects to have a much better crop this year, “We have a medium crop. I wouldn’t say it’s a light crop, like it’s a cycling, but it’s a medium crop. But the size of fruit should be very nice.”

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