Corn and soybean producers may be watching their crops wither in the fields under worsening drought conditions, but area apple growers say they have having a bumper crop of fruit.
“The apples are hanging off the trees,” said Deanna Black, whose family owns Center Grove Orchard near Cambridge. “Everything is looking really, really good.”
It’s a change from last year, when many apple growers’ crops were affected by an early spring freeze that also hurt other fruit crops, but this year is a different story.
Nick Howell, superintendent of the Iowa State University Horticultural Research Station, said the center’s apple crop is going to be good this year.
“It’s huge,” Howell said. “It’s going to be a good apple year.”
Ample rainfall early in the season helped replenish groundwater supplies, and with apple trees being well-established with a deep root system, the sudden shift to drought this summer didn’t affect them, Howell said.
“We had a relatively good moisture reserve early in the season; that’s what’s saving us,” he said.
At Center Grove, where the Blacks were hosting school field trips on Friday and already had a parking lot full of customers shopping in their store buying fudge, cider doughnuts, apple cider and apples, Black walked through the rows of the farm’s 31 apple varieties, stopping for a moment to pick a Red Free apple from a tree and take a bite out of it.
“Red Free are good for cooking, they are softer so they cook down really well,” she said. The farm also grows pumpkins, which Black said also are “looking really good” this year.
Harry Hillaker, state climatologist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture, said the mild temperatures earlier this summer helped prevent apple trees from suffering from heat stress, and that the “drier weather has given a lot less disease pressure from things that could affect apples.”
Orchards that are well established can survive drought fairly easily because the trees’ root systems “get to very deep moisture,” far below the surface, Hillaker said.
“Apple trees can still find moisture, even as dry as it has been,” he said.