Apple Producers Happy with Crop

(Article by Andy Barrand, reprinted with permission from KPC Media Group.)

The nip of fall weather may not be in the air yet, but apple producers around northeast Indiana are hard at work picking this year’s crop.

Despite a wet spring and early summer, local producers said this year’s crop looks to be good.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently predicted this year’s crop will be 1% greater than 2018, but down 2% from the five year average. The Midwest estimate (based solely on Michigan) was 25.2 million bushels.

Rick Meyer, owner of Orchard Hill Farm in Kendallville, said he is seeing more fruit on his trees than last year.

“I am happy, that is the bottom line,” he said. “Every year has its challenges, luckily we had no hail this year.”

Troy Eriksen, owner of G.W. Stroh Orchard in Angola, said he has no complaints with this year’s crop.

“It (the crop) looks fairly decent,” Eriksen said. “We are only light on a few varieties.”

Eriksen said the wet and cold spring didn’t allow some of the trees to be fully pollinated.

The excess rain this season caused Meyer to have to spray a little more than usual to keep the bugs off his trees.

Orchard Hill Farm sells 80% of its apples wholesale, but the majority of their Ginger Gold, Cortland and Honeycrisp apples are sold in the small market at 11061 E. C.R. 415N.

Meyer said almost all of the Red Delicious apples grown on the farm are sold wholesale.

“The community has been very supportive over the years,” Meyer said.

The majority of the crop on Eriksen’s farm is sold in the farm market at 2620 S.R. 827, Angola.

The Beginning
Orchard Hill Farm was started 50 years ago in 1969 when Dick and Hertha Meyer and their three children planted 600 trees by hand on the property. Over the years 3,000 trees have been planted by hand. Today new trees are planted with tree planting equipment.

The family opened the small retail market in 2008. Today it is the only orchard left in Noble County and one of a handful in northeast Indiana.

According to the orchard’s website, when it was started in 1969, there were nine orchards in Noble County.

Meyer said local farmers have retired from the businesses as they have grown older because it is a very labor-intensive industry.

Today Meyer operates the farm with his family and several seasonal employees. Hertha, his mother, still works in the market on a daily basis.

Hertha said she can remember sorting apples by hand while standing around a large orange table that sits off to the side in the packing room.

Today apples are graded, washed and packed thanks to the help of an automated machine. Seasonal employees are still used to operate the machine, but a larger amount of apples can be packed in a shorter amount of time.

New Beginning
Eriksen, who is new to the industry, purchased G.W. Stroh Orchard from Gary and Susan Stroh, who were looking to retire. The couple have operated the orchard since the early 1980s.

Eriksen said nothing will be changing on the farm and he is looking forward to working with Gary over the next couple of years as he mentors him.

“I have always grown up around agriculture,” Eriksen said.

Eriksen, of Montpelier, Ohio, who sold honey at G.W. Stroh Orchard, said he purchased the business one day after talking with Gary.

“One thing just sort of led to another,” he said.

Eriksen opened the orchard’s store for the season on Aug. 3. Since then, he said he has received a lot of well wishes from his customers.

“I have the best customers in the world,” he said. “They are thanking me for taking this on.”

Ripe for the picking
The current apples of the season are Macintosh and Gala, which came into season last week. Honeycrisp apples will be ready for picking the last week of the month.

Orchard Hill Farm has 11-12 acres of Honeycrisp apples on the farm.

Meyer said Honeycrisp apples are still one of the most popular varieties.

More than 30 varieties of apples are grown on the farm along with pears, cherries and peaches. The farm market also sells apple butter, apple jelly and apple syrup to order along with apple cider and apple vinegar.

G.W. Stroh Orchard also features over 30 varieties of apples and is currently picking Gala, Primas, Ruby Johns and McIntosh. Eriksen expects his Honeycrisp crop to be ready for the picking some time next week.

“Everything is about four to five days behind schedule this year,” he said.