Laura Fry and her son Oliver, 2, pick apples at Breeden's Orchard & Country Store in Mt. Juliet. Marynell Breeden, of Breeden's Orchard, said, overall, her crop did pretty well even though the apples were smaller. - Dipti Vaidya / The Tennessean
By Holly Deese and Nicole Young, The Tennessean
Tennessee's apple harvest fell below expectations this year, and local growers say the summer's dry conditions and extreme heat took a toll on some orchards.
Still, it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
This year, apple growers are expected to produce about 7.5 million pounds of apples, down a million pounds from the last year, according to the state.
There might not be as many apples as in previous years, but they are tastier, state agriculture officials say.
"(It) typically makes conditions right for rich, firm, sweet apples," said Dan Strasser, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. "So, even though the quantity of apples produced this year may be down a bit, the quality will still be very good."
Some growers said their crops fared pretty well this year considering the extreme heat.
That's true for Curt Wideman and his wife Christina, who run Morning Glory Orchards in Arrington in Williamson County.
"In this area, the crop has been pretty good but the whole year was early," he said. "The early spring kicked everything off, and the hot summer kind of cooked the apple on the tree, so we are seeing a lot of drop now, which means the apples have ripened quicker and they are dropping off the trees a little faster."
Marynell Breeden, 70, of Breeden's Orchard & Country Store in Mt. Juliet said, overall, her crop did pretty well even though the apples were smaller.
If they had known the summer was going to be so dry they would have done things a bit differently, she sais, such as more aggressively thinning the crop in the spring. Thinning is done to increase fruit size. The fewer fruit that develop on the tree, the larger those fruit will be.
"But, we didn't know we were going to have this drought ahead of time so they did not all grow. Some are a little smaller than they would normally be," Breeden said. "They are still, nice average size apples but there are some that are smaller too, due to the drought."
Not everyone fared as well.
Brenda Falcone and her husband, Tom, have been growing apples in Smith County since 1990. This season was one of their worst.
They have 400 trees on three acres, and this year only about 75 bore fruit good enough to pick.
"With the warm weather we had early on, we had everything in bloom just about," she sais. "And then the cold weather came in and pretty much wiped us out."
And, some orchards that did have apples sold out earlier than usual because the yields were so low.
Tennessee ranked 27th in the country for apple production in 2010, according to the most recent statistics by the United States Department of Agriculture. During that year, the state raked in $2.4 million in cash receipts from the crop, according to the state.
'Life of a farmer'
Wideman takes it all in stride.
He's been through a bad season before when they lost an entire 10-acre crop of apples four seasons ago to a late freeze after blossom time.
"We think the Lord is going to take care of us no matter what, so I don't really worry about that sort of stuff," he said.
"We have had a couple of bad years and we have had a couple of great years and we have had a bunch of average years. The life of a farmer."