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Rappahannock and Madison apple crop comes in huge and early
Donnie Johnson/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
Every farmer knows that adverse weather conditions can send him from the penthouse to the outhouse in a heartbeat.
Only rarely does the situation reverse itself.
This year it did for fruit growers in Rappahannock and Madison counties. In mid-April, they were worried that a late freeze would destroy their peach and apple crops.
With unusually warm early-spring weather, their peach trees had bloomed in late March and apples trees were in full bloom by the first week in April, both a month earlier than normal. One freeze would have wiped out their entire crop. But that freeze never came, and this season has produced some of the best and largest fruit in memory.
"The rains came just right and we didn't get any hail," said Eddie Williams, who operates one of the three major apple and peach orchards in Rappahannock. "And we didn't get that late freeze."
Other areas were not so lucky. Orchards near Stephens City in Frederick County lost between 75 percent and 100 percent of their crop, Williams said, and top apple-producing states such as Michigan and New York were also devastated by late freezes. "There was a guy from a Michigan apple-processing plant in Winchester recently trying to buy Virginia apples."
The late freeze may have caused great hardship for affected orchards, but for Rappahannock growers, it is a dream come true.
"Last year, I was getting 10 and a half cents a pound at Winchester for processing apples," said Williams, who sells half his crop to a plant in Winchester and the rest to visitors to his farm. "This year, I'm already getting 30 cents a pound."
And there are plenty of pounds. For whatever reason, the apples from this year's crop are huge and trees are loaded.
"We've got a 90 percent crop," Williams said.
Why not 100 percent?
"No farmer would ever say he had a perfect crop," he replied, grinning from ear to ear.
Williams believes that elevation saved his peaches and apples.
"It's these mountains," he explained. "Our trees are up high and the wind is always blowing up there.
"The cold air settles down in the hollows, where there is no breeze. That's where the freezes occur first. Most of the orchards around Stephens City [in the Shenandoah Valley] are at lower elevations."