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Bumper harvest for local apple growers

October 31, 2005|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY

erinc@herald-mail.com

By the end of the week, J.D. Rinehart expects Rinehart Orchards will have harvested 120,000 bushels of apples this season.

"It's been a good year," he said. "We're happy. But you won't often see me like this."

Typically, the Rineharts' 400-acre orchard near Smithsburg produces between 90,000 and 100,000 bushels. Rinehart, vice president and general manager of Rinehart Orchards, said it is the best harvest he can remember since 1999.

Jeff Semler, Washington County Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator, said a combination of good weather and a lack of crop diseases led to the county's second-best harvest in 20 years.

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Semler said local growers have been so overwhelmed by the amount of fruit there is to pick, that it is taking them an extra two weeks to harvest the apples.

Washington County leads the state in apple production, Semler said.

Rinehart said his family has been in the apple business for 75 years, and the size and quality of the harvest is dependent almost entirely on the weather. Apple season runs from just after Labor Day through the beginning of November.

There is often the chance for frost to affect the apple crop at the beginning and end of the apple season.

This year, Rinehart said, there has been no frost.

"In normal years, an orchard could have some trees damaged by frost," he said. "This year, there was none, so every apple tree was full."

There was a span of dry weather that could have affected the crop, but rain resulting from Gulf Coast hurricanes "saved us," Rinehart said.

The rain was enough to sustain average and above-average size fruit that because of sugar levels also tastes great, he said.

"I had a Fuji (apple) on Friday," Semler said. "It was really good."

Six years ago, Rinehart said he had a slightly larger harvest produced with the same weather conditions.

"When you are in the fruit business, you have to roll with what Mother Nature gives you," he said. "Some years, she'll give you a big harvest."

The big harvests balance out the less-bountiful ones, like last year's crop that was devastated by a hailstorm. Rinehart said he rides out the bad years, waiting for a crop like the one he has almost finished harvesting.

He said next year's crop is not expected to produce as much.

"Usually after a big crop like this, the trees won't throw as much at you," he said. "You usually have one like this only once every 10 years."

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