2017-09-28 / Front Page

Heat puts urgency in apple harvest

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff

WORKERS HEAD out of orchards in Bingham Township for lunch after spending a hot morning harvesting apples. WORKERS HEAD out of orchards in Bingham Township for lunch after spending a hot morning harvesting apples. Record warmth in the past 10 days has given a whole new meaning to “baked apples.”

Fruit growers in Leelanau County have been scurrying to get their quickly-ripening apples off the trees.

“We’re not seeing an impact on fruit quality yet,” said Nikki Rothwell, director of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center in Bingham Township. “The concern for growers is about storage and how long they’ll last.”

Cool nights and sunny days provide optimal conditions for apple coloring. They’ve been few and far between.

In the past week, daytime highs of 90 or above have been recorded at the research station. Nighttime lows have been 62 or higher since last Thursday, Sept. 21.

The accumulated warmth has hastened fruit maturity, which may cause problems for growers.

“They trying to get through with the harvest,” Rothwell said. “They’re trying to move through the fruit as fast as they can.”

Once picked, growers have to move fruit quickly cool their fruit off before storage to avoid over-ripening which would result in losses.

Excessive heat has also been hard on crews working to bring in the fruit.

Extra bottled water and knocking off work a little early have been commonplace on local farms this week.

“We didn’t pick any in the afternoon,” said Greg Williams, who grows apples in Solon, Centerville and a portion of Kasson townships. “We used some water to cool things down … but when you put apples in a crate when it’s 85 or 90 degrees, it takes a while for them to cool down,”

While crop quality has not dropped off dramatically, Rothwell said one grower reported having “sunburned” fruit.

“He told me it’s the worst apple sunburn he’s ever seen,” Rothwell said.

A mixture of high temperatures and direct sunlight can reduce fruit quality and in some cases downgrade the fruit for use as juice only.

“There is stuff that you can spray on the fruit that acts as a sunscreen,” Williams said. “But most of mine left is for processing and it didn’t seem worth it.”

Overall Williams said he is pleased with this year’s crop and in particular his Honeycrisp apples.

Temperatures which were in the 90s earlier this week dropped by about 30 degrees overnight Tuesday through yesterday morning.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for better weather for growers and apple lovers with highs in the mid-to-upper 60s and night-time lows in the 40s and 50s.

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