Growers reel as orchards show freeze’s toll on Missouri

A warm March, then a frosty April. Apple blossoms died. Growers lost nearly everything.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:20 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Sandy Binder of Mexico, Mo., holds a York from one of her trees. Yorks bloom late compared to her other apples and fared better — if only slightly — after April’s frost.

This September, the town of Seymour will still have its apple festival. First Church of the Nazarene in Eldon will still have its apple pie sale to raise money for mission trips. But both will be looking beyond Missouri for apples.

“We’re actually going to have them shipped in,” said Renee Wallace, president of the Seymour Merchants Association. “It affects us in many ways when it comes to the apple festival. This is the first year in our history that I know of that the apples won’t be home-grown.”

Karen Frye, member of the First Church of the Nazarene, was also forced to look beyond state lines.

“I ended up talking to a few orchards in Iowa,” Frye said. “There just are (no apples) in Missouri.”

The April freeze that has caused major crop loss on a variety of products throughout the state has also taken its toll on Missouri’s apples. Michele Warmund, state fruit extension specialist with MU, said that in a good year Missouri’s apple crop is worth an estimated $12 million. The freeze caused a $10.8 million loss with 90 percent of the apple crop ruined.

Warmund did an assessment of the apple crop industry in Missouri for the National Weather Service, among others.

“The April 4 freeze was particularly devastating because we had the third warmest period in March followed by the coldest period on record in early April,” Warmund said.

Many trees began to bud during the warm period. When the April frost came, it killed the buds — and any potential future apples along with them.

One of the orchards Frye looked to for her church’s apple pies was Binder’s Hilltop Apple and Berry Farm in Mexico, Mo. Owner Sandy Binder had to turn down the church’s 20-bushel request.

Binder’s Hilltop Apple and Berry Farm is among the handful of orchards in Missouri that have a few apples on its trees.

“I think I have one Granny Smith on 50 trees, two Fujis on 100 trees, and maybe a half dozen red delicious,” Binder said. “I do have more York than anything else, though, because they bloom late.”

A portion of the apple crop that Binder does have will be used to make apple chips and apple roll-ups. “I make the apples into apple sauce, put some cinnamon on them, and then spread it out on a sheet and put it in the dehydrator,” Binder said. “I’m trying to get some value out of the apples that I have.”

Apples or no apples, Binder said farmers have to continue to maintain their bare trees.

“You can’t forget it and walk away just because you don’t have any apples,” Binder said.

David Peters, member of the Apple Merchandising Council and owner of Peter’s Market in Waverly, said the trouble for growers is financial: Without apples to sell they can’t offset their costs.

“Growers’ income is going to be zero,” Peters said. “With apples, you still have to carry on a program to control the diseases and the insects. You can buy crop insurance and it’s supposed to cover the expenses, but doesn’t give you any income.”

Gov. Matt Blunt announced in July that the Small Business Association will offer low-interest loans to Missouri counties because of the April freeze. Misti Preston, the public information administrator with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, said Blunt is continuing to look at the damage.

Warmund hopes her assessment of the damaged apple crop will also aid growers seeking financial assistance in addition to serving as a record of the event and a demonstration of the economic loss.

“We want to show the impact of the freeze,” Warmund said. “This is unprecedented. This is a historic event.”

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