Apple crop shaping up to be fruitful

Joe Crawford

At Tanners Orchard, it's possible to have too much of a good thing.

"That tree has too many apples," said Richard Tanner, one of the orchard's owners, gesturing to a tree chock full of the green fruit.

It's a fairly common problem, but it's also a sign the apple crop at the Speer farm will be plentiful this year.

Tanner estimated the orchard will harvest between 25,000 and 30,000 bushels of apples this season, about 30 percent more than last year.

"It's one of the best crops I've seen in years," he said.

Tanners and other area orchards are forecasting a large apple harvest, a welcome prognosis in light of spring frosts that decimated crops two of the past three years.

The growers don't want too many apples on a single tree, and Tanners uses chemical "thinners" and early hand-picking to prevent the problem. Tanner said too many apples on a tree results in small fruit and a chance the tree will underproduce the next year.

Ample rain and the absence of spring freezes helped to make conditions nearly ideal for the fruit in central Illinois this year, Tanner said.

The recent round of unseasonably mild weather is icing on the cake.

"This kind of weather, the cooler nights and warmer days, that's what really puts the color on the apples," he said.

Tanners began harvesting some of its earliest ripening apples about two weeks ago, but the majority of the harvesting will take place around September.

The apple trees at Ackerman Farms in Morton also are bearing more fruit than they have in recent years, but the crop was hit hard by severe storms in June. Co-owner John Ackerman said about 300 of the orchard's 1,500 apple trees were destroyed by the winds, a devastating loss that will affect the farm for years to come.

"We had a lot of years into them, and they had a lot of years left in them," he said. "But that's farming - you're always dealing with the weather."

Even after losing 300 trees, it's still likely his business will be better than last year, Ackerman said.

"The apples on the trees that are left look pretty good," he said.

Shirley Blackburn said her family farm, Partridge Point Orchard, has been hurt badly by the recent spring freezes that killed apple blossoms.

"We were open four days last year," Blackburn said.

So it's refreshing to see a crop that looks like it will be a success.

"We should be back on track this year," she said.

Joe Crawford can be reached at (309) 686-3251 orjcrawford@pjstar.com.