Apples ready for picking at Skytop Orchard in Henderson County, in 2011. Angie Newsome/Wmforo

This story originally appeared here and is published by Wmforo through a content-sharing agreement with The Charlotte Observer.

Mountain farmers are hardest hit, could see 80% of their crop lost

By Kathleen Purvis
[email protected]

Apples ready for picking at Skytop Orchard in Henderson County, in 2011. Angie Newsome/Wmforo

North Carolina’s mountain farmers may have lost 80 percent of the apple crop, usually worth $24 million to the state.

Official numbers won’t be available until the end of the month. But the combination of an early spring that caused trees to bloom and a late cold snap hit orchards hard in Henderson County, which produces 85 percent of the state’s crop.

But because of the way cold air moves through mountain valleys, not every farm was hit.

“It’s real spotty,” said Peggy Laughter of the N.C. Apple Growers Association. “We were froze out,” losing 90 percent of her crop. But some farms around her fared better.

Dave Butler, owner of Skytop Orchard near Flat Rock, said his farm escaped damage and he expects to have a full crop. Skytop, which is a little more than 100 miles from Charlotte, is a popular destination for mountain visitors.

“It’s nothing I particularly did,” he said. It was actually something his ancestors did: They planted their trees on the top of a mountain, and cold air sinks. So Butler’s trees mostly escaped damage while the cold air drained down into the valleys around him and hit farms at lower elevations.

That’s also making it difficult to determine how extensive the damage is, says Marvin Owings, the Henderson County extension director.

In 2010, the most recent data available, North Carolina’s apple crop was the seventh largest in the nation, and the state usually is in the top 10 for apple-producing states.

Other states had big apple losses, too, including New York, Michigan and Washington State. Crops in Pennsylvania and Virginia weren’t hit as hard.

While there was some damage in South Carolina, most of that state’s apples are OK. Catherine Guzman at Windy Hill Orchard in York County, about 40 miles south of Charlotte, said they’ll open for you-pick on Saturday.

“The apples are early,” she said. “But we did OK. We didn’t have a freeze.”

In Henderson County, Owings emphasized there still will be apples for the N.C. Apple Festival in Hendersonville Aug. 31-Sept. 3, the traditional opening of the apple season, and for roadside stands.

But some you-pick farms may not be open. You-pick can bring a lot of loss from apples getting dropped on the ground or wasted.

Still, everyone involved in growing apples encourages mountain travelers to check and call farms before you go.

“Come on and find your apples,” Laughter said.

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