Area apple farmers confront crop hardships

WORTHINGTON -- From an early bloom to an April frost, May storms and summer drought, this year has been one to remember, or in some cases forget, for southwest Minnesota's apple orchards.

Stonegate Orchard
Larry and Gail Byers stand in front of a SweeTango variety of apple tree that bears a single apple. The trees are normally full of apples weighing down every branch.

WORTHINGTON -- From an early bloom to an April frost, May storms and summer drought, this year has been one to remember, or in some cases forget, for southwest Minnesota's apple orchards.

While the two orchards south of Worthington -- Nystrom Orchards on Quine Avenue and Ocheda Orchard on Nobles County 5 -- have pretty good crops, that isn't the case for Stonegate Orchard north of Slayton and the Dayton Avenue Orchard south of Adrian.

Gail Byers, who owns Stonegate Orchard with her husband Larry, estimates they will end up with just 20 percent of their typical apple harvest.

"Our biggest problem was the freeze that we had (April 9 and 10)," said Gail Byers. "The trees were blossoming and budding out ... after we had the warm temperatures in February."

The Byers, who have operated the orchard since 1997, say they have never experienced anything like this before.


"We've had some years with frost damage, but nothing like this," Gail said. "It didn't seem to have any pattern. It seems like one area of the orchard has more apples, but most trees don't have any apples on them."

Stonegate Orchard has about a dozen different varieties, including the popular Honey Crisp and SweeTango, both developed by the University of Minnesota, as well as the traditional older varieties like the Firesides and Orioles.

"The SweeTango and Zestar are usually ready the end of August, but they'll be early," she said. "There's some Honey Crisp out here. Regents, a later apple, seemed to fair the best."

As poor as the apple crop will be at Stonegate Orchard, the Dayton Avenue Orchard near Adrian is expected to be even worse.

Owner Randy Wolf estimates he'll have about 1 percent of his normal crop from the orchard that opened three years ago.

"I have very few apples," he said. "I don't even know that I'll be open for business. I don't have hardly anything."

Wolf has about 450 mature trees in his orchard, with more trees planted in the last two years. Most of the crop was lost after the early April freeze, when Wolf said temperatures at his orchard dropped to 19 degrees.

The apples that did develop after the freeze were then hampered by a 70-mile-per-hour wind storm on May 27.


"I hope I have a better year next year," Wolf said. "There's nothing you can do about it."

Better crops near Worthington

Aaron Nystrom, who recently took over his family's apple orchard on Quine Avenue, said he was surprised by how well the trees came through the April frost.

"There were a couple varieties that were affected pretty hard -- the Connell Reds and the Zestar," he said. "Depending on where the trees are in the orchard, we did have a little hail."

Still, Nystrom said there is a "pretty good crop" of Honey Crisp apples, and more than a dozen other varieties for customers to choose from at Nystrom Orchards. He anticipates apples will be ready by early September, starting with the Wealthy, a baking apple.

Many of the apples are smaller than usual because of the heat and lack of moisture this summer, and Nystrom said he has noticed apples with blemishes, cracking and some sun damage.

"We have a few apple varieties that are just starting to ripen," he added. "For us, it's going to be an interesting year. We're going to have fruit and a fairly decent supply."

Chuck Nystrom, whose Ocheda Orchard opened on Friday, said they, too, survived the frost pretty well.


"We had some blossom damage, but we still have an excellent crop of Honey Crisp," he said.

The Connell Red, Courtland and Zestar varieties were the hardest hit by frost, and estimates are that those varieties will produce only about 10 percent of their typical crop.

"We did get hail Memorial Day weekend, so they're not as pretty as we'd like," Chuck Nystrom said.

Ocheda Orchard currently has Oriole, Williams Pride, Monarch and Sunrise apples, as well as Centennial crab apples for sale. It's the first time the orchard has opened with that many varieties available, Chuck Nystrom said.

"We have apples picked and in the cooler," he added. "Normally we'd open when we have the apples ready, but the middle of July is just too early for us to open."

The early varieties of apples are "pretty good size" at Ocheda Orchard, but Chuck Nystrom said without some rain soon, the size of later varieties will be compromised.

"If we don't get some rain to sort of get the trees hydrated better for winter, we could see more damage next year as a result of the dry season," he added.

Chuck Nystrom has already seen some impact on the newly planted trees he's been out watering for much of the summer.


"They just shut down because of the heat," he said. "The older established trees, I don't think it affected them as much."

As for the flavor of the apples this year, Chuck Nystrom said the lack of rain has caused them to be less acidic and sweeter, based on what he's sampled thus far.

"If you're a tart (apple) lover, those will be in short supply," he said.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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