Unicoi Co. orchards weather tough year

Brad Hicks • Sep 29, 2012 at 10:49 PM

ERWIN — While attendees of the 35th annual Unicoi County Apple Festival, which will be held next weekend in downtown Erwin, can expect to get their share of apples from vendors at the festival, the local crop this year is a little thinner due to an overnight freeze that occurred in the spring.

Ty Petty, Unicoi County University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension agent, said warmer-than-typical temperatures in the winter and early spring caused apple tree blooms to come in a little ahead of schedule. An overnight frost that occurred April 12, which saw temperatures dip as low as 24 degrees, came at a time when most of the county’s apple trees were in bloom — when fruit-bearing trees are most susceptible to cold damage.

“It really thinned out the apple crop to where we had less than a third of a normal crop this year in most of our orchards,” Petty said.

The Apple Festival is an important time of year for local growers, Petty said, as a number of folks visit the county with apples on their minds. Visitors looking to purchase apples often turn to local orchards, and Petty said local growers may sell as many apples around the time of the Apple Festival as they do in the three weeks prior. He also said most growers look to sell out of apples at the time of the festival.

However, Petty said at least two local growers have already sold out of apples. He also said thinning of the apple crop may lead to higher prices this year. Petty said apple prices in neighboring areas of North Carolina are currently as high as $30 per bushel, when prices are generally around $20 or a little less per bushel.

Still, Petty said those looking to purchase locally-grown apples should still have the opportunity to do so, as some orchards still have fruit for sale.

“With the freeze in April that damaged the crop, we already started out with a very limited supply and that’s still definitely the case,” Petty said. “We may not have as wide of a selection and varieties this year but, as of right now, there are still some apples out there at the orchards for sale.”

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