Henderson County hopes calm weather for apples

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HENDERSON COUNTY, NC — The manager of a North Carolina apple farm says he is upbeat and optimistic that 2022 will be a year of rebound from a late Easter frost in 2021 that damaged crops.

Trey Enloe, whose father and uncle own Lewis Creek Farm in Hendersonville, has managed the property for 10 years. It retails as Bright Branch Farms, primarily selling apples wholesale to production facilities and other distributors.

Enloe is cautiously optimistic that 2022 will be a better year for North Carolina mountain apple growers.

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After an Easter 2021 frost on mountain apple farms, farmers lost around 70% of the harvest

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“Generally, if you get wiped out like we did last year, there will be a big bloom for the coming year. So we expect a big bloom, Enloe said among a row of apple trees. from his family.

“There will be a lot of potential apples. If we can avoid one of those late season frosts, we should have a very good crop this year. So let’s hope for the best,” he added.

Late last year, the Easter frost sent temperatures into the low 20s for a few days. Enloe said any temperature below 29 degrees damages apple blossoms, ruining yields for the year. The family farm lost 80% to 85% of its apple harvest in 2021, according to Enloe.

Apple trees typically begin blooming in late March and April, putting the fragile little blossoms at the mercy of what can be fluctuating spring temperatures.

Last year’s low yield is still being felt now, as Enloe cleared the last stored apples from the farm.

“So a lot of this time of year we spend moving boxes around and pretty much disposing of apples from the previous harvest,” Enloe said, while driving a forklift.

Driving quickly among stacked crates of apples, Enloe said the Rome apples would be directed to the juicer.

“It’s used more for a baking apple now, processing, that sort of thing. At one time, Henderson County mostly had quite a few Romes floating around,” Enloe explained.

Rome apples store and grow well here in North Carolina, but they took a hit from last year’s frost.

“Normally at this time of year we have about 400 bins left, something like that. And right now, I think I have about 40-60 bins left. It’s strictly because of last year’s frost,” Enloe said. “But a lot of them are still in very good shape.”

After about half an hour on the forklift, Enloe had transferred about 16,000 pounds of apples from the family’s storage refrigerator to the family’s juice warehouse. The warehouse is where they will eventually be squeezed to sell pure, pasteurized juice. It’s one of many jobs that have turned apple farming into a year-round activity, which Enloe says is a modern development.

“Most growers these days need to branch out and do more than just grow and sell a fresh apple,” Enloe said. in front of his juice extractor.

For example, the family sells apples to grocery stores and roadside stands, as well as applesauce, juice and cider processing plants. Even leftover applesauce is sold to cattle farms as cattle feed. The family also grows other crops, such as pumpkins, to further diversify the farm’s production.

“I think the wholesale price of an apple is now the same as it was in 1985,” Enloe said, “You can imagine everything else has gone up, so we had to branch out and do other things. “

Besides apple trees needing warmer spring temperatures to ensure safe blooms, they also need cool hours in winter to revitalize. Enloe said the average tree needs 500 to 1,500 hours of chilling, which means hours when the temperature stays below 40 to 45 degrees.

“I think we’re close enough to get it right this year,” Enloe said of the number of cold hours this winter.

But after working in the family business for a long time, Enloe said the weather isn’t the biggest concern for farmers like him over the next decade.

“Honestly, it’s probably housing pressure. I mean, you can see, it’s beautiful here. So everyone wants to live here. So you can’t really blame somebody if they want to sell and put houses up,” Enloe said with a smile.

Pressure for more housing is growing in the South as the population grows, especially in states like North Carolina.

“I’m still a really big fan of keeping agriculture in place because once a house is planted, you don’t get it,” Enloe said with a laugh.

Last year, North Carolina’s Henderson County Cooperative Extension Manager, Terry Kelley, said the region lost about 70 percent of its apple crop due to late frost.

The county has 5,000 acres of apple farms and supplies most of the state’s apples. According to Kelley, Henderson County and surrounding areas are about as far south as you can get for successful apple growing.

This year, Kelley said the weather has been more normal and moderate.

“We’ve had nice January and February so far where we’ve had good temperatures, normal winter temperature. We’ll be building in the chill hours, we haven’t seen the flowers start to move yet, so they’re still pretty dormant at the moment. And so, we feel like we’re in good shape so far,” Kelley said.

The apple industry generates about $30 million for Henderson County, which is why Kelley said late freezes like 2021 can hurt the local economy. Crop losses can lead to reduced labor and less reinvestment of wages in local businesses.

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