A wetter-than-normal summer has caused frustration for apple growers, who have seen more fruit rot and fewer days for harvest.
Baugher’s Farm and Orchard’s Dwight Baugher said their harvest is in full swing. It starts in July and doesn’t end until November as different varieties ripen.
In his 27 years of farming full-time, “this has been my most frustrating summer because of weather,” said Baugher, who is the orchard manager.
Rain has caused more splits, cracks and rot on the fruit than growers would like to see.
“We’ve had stretches where things have laid wet for eight or 10 days in a row,” he said.
Baugher’s grows more than 25 varieties on about 145 acres, starting with Early Gold in the summer all the way through Pink Ladies and Gold Rush in late fall.
Bob Black, co-owner of Catoctin Mountain Orchard and a member of the Maryland Apple Promotion Board, said: “The rain has caused a lot of damage to certain varieties of apples all over the East Coast. It will cause apples to crack because of excessive rainfall and the trees just taking up the extra moisture so quickly.”
“The most troublesome variety is one of folk’s most favorite and that's Honeycrisp,” he added. “We probably lost 50 percent due to cracking.”
When rain clouds cover the sun, that changes the appearance of apples.
“The apples are just as flavorful. What sunshine means is color,” Baugher said. “That means a lot to us. … The American consumer wants pretty-colored and tasty.”
This year has also lacked dry weather days to do the work of harvesting.
“It compresses an already [large] amount of workload into a tighter window. You can’t harvest in the dark,” Baugher said.
And when a greater percentage of the crop may be affected by rot or other flaws, “it just slows you down because you’ve got to be picky. All of us farmers in 2018 are taking it one day at a time,” he said.
Black has heard of trouble with muddy fields from other growers.
"Some people have gotten stuck, some people sliding down hillsides, making it just a very challenging harvest,” he said. “But as farmers, we're all resilient and we just keep plugging along and hopefully we're going to get all the apples off in good time.”
He said Catoctin is doing pick-your-own, which works out well to bring the public to the orchard, but is also affected by the weather.
"Nobody picks in the rain, including our pick-your-own folks, so we lost several weekends,” he said.
He was thankful that Maryland has been mostly skirted by hurricanes. In addition to bringing extra water, the high winds can blow apples off trees or even snap a tree full of apples in half.
He said an apple farmer's dream weather would be a half inch to an inch of rain every Sunday night, with sunshine the rest of the week to get the harvest in.
"If you want to keep your farmers here in Maryland,” he said, “look at that label to see if it's Maryland grown and try to support all the Maryland growers that you can."
New varieties are coming all the time, including Crimson Crisp and Evercrisp, which will soon be ripe locally.
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“Folks who are not really in tune with farming will say to me, 'Oh boy, aren't you glad for all this rain?' and I said 'Not every day.’ You have to be able to perform certain tasks, whether it's picking, pruning, spraying. … It's not alone with us. Every farmer has been impacted by the weather this year. And it's not over yet.”