URBANDALE, Iowa – In 2012, just as the apple trees were blooming, a hard frost swept through the Midwest, right through apple grower Bryan Etchen’s trees at Iowa Orchard in Urbandale just outside of Des Moines.
“Everybody that I talk to lost 90% of their fruit,” Etchen says. Losing that much of a crop “makes caring for the trees not a very good financial prospect, with only 10% of a crop on the trees, but you have to do it anyway, to keep the health of the tree.”
Etchen has a few other orchards around the state, and he made it, but just barely. And 2013 brought its own set of challenges. After a hard freeze “the tree tends to store up a lot of energy and carbohydrates,” says Etchen, “so that the following year, it tries to overproduce.”
And Etchen’s trees aren’t the only ones still recovering; apple trees on the farm of Iowa’s Farm Service Agency Executive Director John Whitaker were also frostbitten in 2012.
“One tree did set on Jonathan apples,” Whitaker recalls, “and I would take those little apples and cut them, and they were black in the center; they had been frozen right in the bloom.”
The farm bill that passed earlier this year is now directing USDA’s Farm Service Agency to do something about that, through changes to the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP)
“Congress, when they looked at the farm bill, they said ‘You know, if we had had the new enhancements for 2014 in NAP, producers might’ve applied sooner, because this took out the cherry crop in Michigan, it took out apple crops in Iowa, it took out berry crops in Utah,'” says Whitaker.
Bush or tree fruit producers are now able to sign up for disaster payments, much like the ongoing livestock forage disaster program. And while Etchen says he’s not sure he’ll sign up for NAP, this September he does expect to have “a medium crop. I wouldn’t say it’s a light crop, like it’s a cycling, but it’s a medium crop. But the size of fruit should be very nice.”
To hear more about the 2012 freeze and Iowa Orchard, click the audio player above this story.