With the time to partake in autumn’s bounty approaching, Carroll County farmers are saying that this year’s weather was much kinder than the last, leading to what’s expected to be a successful apple harvest.

The Westminster area got about 72 to 74 inches of rain last year, compared to the typical rainfall of 46 to 47 inches, according to Bryan Butler, a University of Maryland Extension agent. That much rain can lead to diseases and affects the color and taste of apples, he said.

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Dwight Baugher, farm manager of Baugher’s Orchards in Westminster, said the rain in 2019 has been much less intense than the year prior.

“This season is a blessing compared to last," Baugher said. “It felt like somebody had their hands around my throat every day."

Baugher is the fourth generation of his family to work in the business. They have about 900 acres and grow more than 30 varieties of apples. Last year, some of his crops suffered fungal disease from all the rain, so employees sprayed to prevent its growth and had to carefully inspect which apples they picked, according to Baugher. They also lost work days to rain and equipment got stuck in the mud, he said.

Diana Hare, agriculture development specialist with the Carroll County Department of Economic Development, said that too much rain can cause a number of problems in agriculture.

Baugher's workers check apples on a conveyor carrying them to the grinder where they will be processed into cider at Baugher's farm and orchard in Westminster Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Baugher's workers check apples on a conveyor carrying them to the grinder where they will be processed into cider at Baugher's farm and orchard in Westminster Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

“Extremely wet years can lead to an increase in all sorts of moisture-related problems such as plant diseases (especially those caused by funguses) that can damage the plant and fruit leading to decreased productivity and quality of the end product,” Hare wrote in an email. “And of course, a lower quality product cannot command as high of a market price. Not to mention that there is just simply less of a product to go around.”

This year, the weather has been much more forgiving.

“Our apple crop is wonderful and tastes very good," Baugher said. “I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I am grateful for what I call a nice apple crop."

The type of weather Carroll County has been experiencing lately is perfect for apples, apparently.

“Cool nights and sunshine is the best you can have for apples," Baugher said. When the weather is dry and sunny, the sugar in fruit increases, he added.

His favorite variety of apple is the Jonagold, a blend of Golden Delicious and Jonathan. Honeycrisp is the top seller, as usual, but Baugher’s also offers new varieties that are a spinoff from this favorite, such as Evercrisp, Autumncrisp and Crimsoncrisp.

“Produce sales this year were above average and strong," Baugher said.

On Thursday, they began making this season’s cider — a fall favorite. They offer cider and other treats at their market at 1015 Baugher Road.

Carolyn Farm & Orchard

In Finksburg, Carolyn Farm & Orchard is experiencing an improved apple crop, too.

“[We] will have probably twice as many as we did last year,” manager Curtis Brothers said.

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His parents, Eva and Luther, took over the orchard from Luther’s father Claude in 1955. Since Luther died last year, Curtis has taken the helm, though 87-year-old Eva is still active in the family business. The Brothers family has the market and about 32 acres in Finksburg and 108 acres in Westminster, Brothers said, and about 112 acres in New Windsor, Eva said.

“We had a real good season of peaches. Our apple season is starting off good," Brothers said.

His farm, Brothers Valley in Westminster, flooded last year.

“Last year, we lost a lot of tomatoes due to the weather," Brothers said.

But one of the advantages to having three farms is the weather and soil are not always the same at each one, he said, so they can pull fruits and vegetables from other locations or plant extra crops elsewhere.

“The weather in one place might be different from the other," Brothers said. “You see the difference in the coloring and the size."

He estimates they’re about one-third of the way into apple harvest. In addition to apples and apple products, they’re selling fall decorations such as pumpkins and gourds now, too.

The Brothers have four generations running around the farm currently, from Eva to her great-grandchildren, Brothers said. Everyone helps in some way, he said, whether they’re out picking fruit in the orchards or boxing items at the retail market at 3899 Sykesville Road.

They have about a dozen varieties of apples, Brothers said, with Honeycrisp and Gala being the most popular.

When they have poor weather, Brothers said they “just move on and plan for the next year.”

However, Mother Nature’s wrath one year can continue to impact apple trees in future seasons, according to Butler.

Jordan Carmichael stocks Honeycrisp apples on the shelves at Baugher's Orchard Market in Westminster Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019.
Jordan Carmichael stocks Honeycrisp apples on the shelves at Baugher's Orchard Market in Westminster Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

“We’re taking care of something that lives 20, 25 years," Butler said. “The crop load of one year affects the crop load of next year."

Immense rain negatively affects the fertility of an apple tree’s root systems, according to Butler.

Last year was the worst case of bitter rot Butler had ever seen. Bitter rot is a fungal disease that affects the fruit and gives it soft spots that rot, he said.

“That disease was almost uncontrollable last year,” Butler said. “I’d never seen that much, ever."

Too much rain not only rots apples, it also affects their calcium levels and how long they can be stored, according to Butler.

Ideally, an apple orchard’s weather would be dry and sunny, receiving water through irrigation rather than rain, Butler said.

But with sunny skies ahead, there is much to be hopeful for, in Butler’s eyes.

“Generally speaking, I think we’re going to have a very nice apple crop," Butler said. “There’s a lot to be optimistic about in 2019."

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