Late summer heat wave is not ideal for local apple crop

Published: Sep. 18, 2018 at 4:25 PM EDT
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Local farmers have dealt with a lot of different weather patterns this season. It started off rainy. Then it was hot and dry in the middle of the summer, and we've had a mix of rain and heat as summer winds down.

The timing of all those conditions means different things for different crops. We checked in at a local orchard Tuesday. While some of you may be enjoying this end of summer heat, it's not ideal for the apple crop. This weekend's cool down is welcome news at MacQueen Orchards.

The harvest is underway. The apples are starting to ripen,.but this late season heat is delaying the coloring process Jeff MacQueen showed us a tree that had a number of apples that are not bright red yet, "See this apple here, It has a bit of a dull finish. This apple however has some brighter red, that's how the first one should be. The apples are all a great size right now, we are just waiting for the coloring process to finish. We had a very good crop this year. We should be just a little below last year's crop, which was a big one."

Jeff says the way to make the apples finish the coloring process is simple,"What we need now is 65 degree days with some bright sunshine and then lows in the upper forties or lower fifties at night. That is what puts color in the apple."

Jeff, his sister and his brother Bob are the third generation of the family to work at the orchard. Jeff's son Zach is part of the fourth generation, "Growing up I was always out on the tractor with my dad. Now I do that with my kids. It's cool."

Zach says while the name on the orchard has stayed the same for generations, there have been a lot of changes when it comes to technology, "Every apple has multiple pictures taken as it rotates through. Those pictures determine color and size and all the parameters we have set. We used to do that with manual dials that spin up and down to size it, so things have changed a lot in the last ten years."

Bob MacQueen says one thing that hasn't changed is the process of getting the apples out of the trees, "Everything has to be hand picked. There can't be any bruises. They are all fresh packed."

Once the apples are picked they're put in a cooler. Bob says from there it's on to a rigorous cleaning and packing process, "Everything gets washed, sanitized and then goes through a big dryer. They come out and go through a computer sorter that separates them by color and size. "

Despite the slower coloring process, Jeff says this year's harvest will be strong.The orchard is expected to produce about 100,000 bushels, which adds up to millions of apples. Jeff says those apples end up all over the region at national retailers like Walmart and Kroger, as well as local markets like Churchill's, Sautter's, Monnette's and Kazmaier's, "About 70% of our business is wholesale. Our apples go all over. We send them to stores throughout Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee. When it gets closer to Christmas, we ship a lot to Florida and they go into fruit baskets." Generations of one family, feeding generations of other families.

Peaches are also grown at MacQueen orchards. This year, only about 50% of the crop was harvested. Jeff says the sub-zero temperatures early in the winter are the reason for that.