Drought cuts local apple crop to its core

August 30, 2012 (CHICAGO)

"You look at a tree this size, we probably have 10-12 apples on here. We should see 100-150 apples on here," Ryan Richardson said. Seventy-percent of the crop at County Line Orchard in Hobart, Ind., is gone. The victim of an early series of frosts, combined with the drought, conspired to shorten the growing season and force apples to drop in early summer instead of the fall.

Now this apple orchard is forced to buy its apples elsewhere.

"We've been able to source apples from other orchards in the Midwest. We just won't have that traditional apple picking like is typical," Ryan Richardson, County Line Orchard, said.

This year's apple crop is the worst this family farm has experienced since it opened in 1984. But they've braced themselves against bad crops by expanding their business to include tractors rides, a country store, and a corn maze made to look like Ron Santo.

At Johnson's Produce Farm, the sweet corn crop is ready for harvest a month or two earlier than normal. Third generation farmer Steve Johnson says the sweet corn is as tasty as ever, but there's a lot less of it.

"We are definitely going to run out by the end of September. We have picked all the way through as late as October in the past but this year we'll be done at the end of September," Johnson said.

The latest stats show 60- to 70-percent of Illinois and Indiana are in drought conditions. But those who farm the land close to Lake Michigan say their crops have been helped by additional rain.

"We've been getting a lot of bottom of the lake stores that are helping, things like pumpkins which might not be irrigated," Johnson said.

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