Apples to see bumper crop year, grape harvest will be good - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Apples to see bumper crop year, grape harvest will be good

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With autumn less than two weeks away, apple-lovers will be happy to hear experts predict a bumper crop of the fruit; more than enough to fulfil anyone's pie, caramel and cider needs.

Iowa's grape harvest also has a strong outlook, and for both fruits' strong yield, growers thank the cold, wet spring.

This good news comes on the heels of last year's drought, which was particularly tough on area apple growers. A late spring frost in 2012 combined with the dry weather made for a poor apple crop throughout the Midwest.

Grapes generally did well in 2012, as the lack of moisture concentrated the fruit's flavor and resulted in high-quality grapes, for much of the state.

17-year-old Tyler Czipar hopes to one day take over the multi-generational family business of apples. His great-great grandfather, grandpa and dad all at one point owned and tended Czipar's Apple Orchard, in Dubuque County.

Seeing this year's bumper crop is especially encouraging.

"Believe it or not, we're actually running out of crates," Czipar said, standing in the orchard Tuesday afternoon. "We're going to have to build more crates this year to keep up, so that tells you right there that we've never had such a great year."

The cold, wet spring gave the trees plenty of moisture for growing. Also, Iowa State University Extension horticulture specialist Patrick O'Malley pointed out, the cool temperatures delayed the apple blossoms, so by the time they bloomed, the worst of the threat of frost was over and the apples grew to their full potential.

The Czipars grow more than 18 variety of apples on their 10-acre orchard. Tuesday afternoon, the Cortland variety hung heavy on the trees. Already the size of softballs, the fruit still has two weeks to mature before they're fully ripe for the picking.

"The whole crop is just a spectacular crop," Czipar said. "This year has been the best, probably, I've seen in the past five years."

With every blessing comes its curse, however. The wet spring meant some fire blight set into several of the trees. It's a disease that withers selected branches and apples. While it's not largely impacting the crop, the Czipars still have to battle it limb by limb.

Also, some of the apples are so big and plentiful the trees bearing them cannot hold them.

"Because of all the excess weight on the branches, the tree can't take it, and the branches will break right off of the tree itself," Czipar said.

Still, the family is thankful for the yield, a departure from last year.

"For us last year, it was alright, but most places were devastated with their crop," Czipar said. "We were down about 15 percent last year. Most places were 50 percent or above...This year's just spectacular compared to last year. It's phenomenal."

Grape growers, such as brothers Dave and Jim Cushman at Park Farm Winery in Dubuque County, are looking forward to this year's harvest, too.

"Honestly, the wet weather earlier in the spring helped out with the deficit that we had from last year during the drought," Jim Cushman said. "Some of our younger vines really benefited and really set a lot more fruit than they had in the past, which is good for the quantity, whereas last year we did not have the quantity but we had quality."

ISU Extension viticulture expert Mike White said the cold, wet spring made for looser clusters of grapes. Some growers may see their grape numbers drop 10 to 15 percent below an average yield, White said.

However, Dave Cushman said, "we actually like to see that looser cluster. It does reduce the weight a little bit on your harvest, but we think you have a better quality grape."

Grape growers had a very different story last year than growers of many other types of crops.

"Last year was so dry that the grapes were very concentrated in their flavor and their color," Dave Cushman said. "The 2012 wines that we're actually just tasting in the barrels are going to be, for sure, the best we've ever produced."

He said the quality this year will still be fantastic but not as perfect as last year's grapes.

Still, it seems this year, growers and grapes and apples don't have to grapple with a poor harvest.

Speaking of grapes, Iowa's wine industry continues to mature. White said more and more wines from the state are taking home awards at national and even international competitions.

Grape growers will complete their harvest anywhere from late September to mid-October.

Tyler Czipar's grandfather Dick Czipar, who owned and operated the orchard up until Tyler's parents took it over last year, has said he likes to have all the apples picked in time for the World Series at the end of October.

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