The fifth warmest winter in history in North Carolina has taken a toll on many crops in the state, but none more severe than apples, where a 50 percent loss may occur in the crop this year.

Mother Nature handed apple growers in western North Carolina a double dose of misery, starting with an April 10-11 freeze and followed up by two severe and wide-spread hailstorms in early- and mid-May. The combination may knock out more than 75 percent of apple production in Henderson County, the state’s largest apple producing county.

Though growers knew production would be limited because of the unusual spring weather, final production figures are hammering home the final tally on what could have been the best apple and peach crop in North Carolina in the past 20-25 years.

The warm winter set up both peaches and apples for a hard fall with the April freeze. Trees bloomed about two weeks or even earlier than previous years and were in their most vulnerable production stage when the cold weather hit.

The cruelest of all blows may be that apple prices were up for the first time in several years and growers appeared headed to recouping some of their losses from the past few years. Typically, apples generate approximately $24 million in North Carolina.

Marvin Owings, director of the Henderson County office of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, estimated that this year’s crop is the worst the county has seen since 1955.

Owings said that 15-25 percent of the expected apple yield for Henderson County is pretty accurate. Owings contends the high apple prices may allow some growers to recoup some of their losses, but this year’s crop will still be economically debilitating for many growers.

With trees in full bloom, any extended low temperatures below 29 degrees F will have a devastating impact on both apple and peach production. On April 24, nighttime temperatures in the heart of North Carolina’s apple country dropped to 24 degrees.

Henderson County grower Kenny Barnwell says the end result of the freeze is showing up in peach and apple production. Fellow Henderson County grower Rick Moss, who grows approximately 100 acres of apples near Ednyville, says losses of 30-50 percent are common in his area of the state.

Despite the economic woes, the North Carolina Apple Festival, one of the largest in the country will go on as scheduled. The annual event is set for Hendersonville, N.C., over Labor Day Weekend, from Aug. 31 until Sept. 3.

rroberson@farmpress.com