Workers at Rendleman Orchards sit aboard a full field wagon, waiting to go on lunch break after completing a morning of picking. Relatively cool temperatures and plenty of rain early helped bring in a good crop this year.
Workers at Rendleman Orchards sit aboard a full field wagon, waiting to go on lunch break after completing a morning of picking. Relatively cool temperatures and plenty of rain early helped bring in a good crop this year.
ALTO PASS, Ill. — For the most part, Illinois apple growers enjoyed a good season, despite some weather conditions that were worrisome.

A severe drought last year and drought in some apple-growing regions of the state this year may have caused some concern, but the crop has done well. One reason is the cool evening temperatures as the fruit was ripening.

“It was a good crop. I can’t complain,” said Wayne “Ren” Sirles of Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass.

The hot, dry conditions that stretched over much of the summer and fall last year threatened to take a toll on this year’s crop, but many growers were pleasantly surprised.

“A lot of people don’t realize that with all your fruit except grapes, the bud is made the previous year for the next year’s crop,” Sirles said. “So last year when we were trying to make buds for the 2013 crop we were having that tremendous heat and drought. That did have some effect on this year — not as bad as I thought it may be, but there is some effect.”

But cool temperatures at the right times this year gave the fruit a boost, especially in color, according to Elizabeth Wahle, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“They’ve had enough cool nights to get pretty good color this year, compared to last year when it was pretty hot,” she said. “We’ve had some heat, but those cool nights really improved the color. We do want plenty of sunlight for sizing, but it’s those cool nights that are going to give us that nice, red color.

“I ran some numbers for my area (southwest Illinois, east of St. Louis). Compared to the 30-year average, we were only 1 or 2 degrees lower. I was surprised. We were fairly close to the 30-year average except in the spring, and definitely later in the season we were cooler. But for apples that’s good, because we want the color on the reds. We’re not complaining about the cool temperatures when we’re talking about apple color.”

Last year was a boon economically for Illinois growers, as weather problems severely affected the apple crop in Michigan and other Great Lakes states. That resulted in higher prices for Illinois apples.

About 80 percent of Sirles’ apple crop is sold wholesale.

“The wholesale market is a struggle,” he said. “That’s a very, very sad thing in all farming, no matter what it is. Somebody has to have some misfortune for another grower to do well. Everything is global.”

The overall harvest was late this year, according to Sirles. Picking at the Union County orchard was scheduled to end the first week of October.

“We’re running about a week or so later, maybe up to 10 days,” he said. “We started very early varieties the last of August. Our apple harvest in general now is getting earlier because of the newer varieties that people want, such as Gala and Honeycrisp.”

He added that the relatively cool summer “helped the crop a lot.”

A swath of Illinois suffered a second year of drought, affecting some apple producers, according to Wahle. But growers have responded to the weather.

“This year we had a severe drought close to the Illinois River running from Waterloo up to the Quincy area,” Wahle said. “It was running very, very dry from June to now. We’re still running fairly dry. Those trees are a little more stressed than others because they’ve had two years of drought in a row.

“But so far, they seem to be yielding well. They flowered well enough that they had to thin them down. I think they’re managing it well by thinning.”

A shaky start to the fruit season gave way to a successful year.

“When we started off, we had such an early spring, but it has turned out to be a pretty good year,” Wahle said. “The peach crop was just beautiful this year. Several growers thought this was one of their better peach years. And the apple crop is very nice this year, as well.”