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DeKalb County-area apple orchards begin picking season locally focused

Local problems become bigger concerns for local apple orchards

It’s a fall tradition to head to an apple orchard and pick your own apples. However, as with all agriculture, current trade disputes between the U.S. and China are having some effects on local orchards and their business.

One of those facing the economic blow dealt by the escalating tensions is Kuipers Family Farm in Maple Park.

“The main thing we’ve noticed from these tariff wars is the prices in other stores are going down, so we have to respond the same just lowering our prices,” said Will Kuipers, who is in charge of fruit and vegetable production.

While Kuipers is facing the effects, the same does not hold true for Honey Hill Orchard in Waterman or Jonamac Orchard in Malta, which said that local problems are more immediate concerns for them.

“We set our own prices, and we’ve actually kept our prices the same for a long time and haven’t had any issue with any of this related to the tariffs,” said Jenna Spychal, a co-owner of Jonamac Orchard.

Spychal said that local competition is a larger concern than international trade disputes.

“Our biggest issue is just that there are more and more people growing apples each year,” she said. “That’s a much bigger issue than tariffs for us because we’re not wholesaling to other countries.”

None of the three orchards ship their crops overseas.

Kathy Bock, the owner of Honey Hill Orchard, said the weather has been a problem for her. She attributes the crowds seen at the orchard to the rain.

“We have had rain every single weekend so far,” Bock said. “That really cuts down on the number of people coming out to pick.”

Bock said the harvest at Honey Hill Orchard also was affected by the weather.

“This year wasn’t as good of a year,” Bock said. “We had a lot of rain in the spring – a very cool, late spring. You need nice weather for good pollination for the bees. It was little trickier for pollination, so a little lighter crop this year.”

Kuipers described what’s happening at the federal level as having a “trickle-down effect” to the local economy.

“People look to us to be a little bit cheaper than the stores because there’s no middle man,” he said.

Apple picking long has been a traditional pastime for many this time of year.

The trade wars and their effects, if any, have not deterred people from going to apple-picking orchards in the DeKalb area.

“We’re really happy that people are taking that effort to come out,” Kuipers said.

Kuipers said the apples are sizing up well, despite the rain at times.

Spychal agreed.

“We have quite a few varieties that are doing well here, which is a good thing,” she said. “Obviously, this weather has been a tough thing for all farmers, but it hasn’t made it to where apples are in short supply.”

Bock said it’s clear why people turn to apple orchards such as hers.

“We’re a totally different type of market than a grocery store,” she said. “People are coming around here, a lot of them, for pick-your-own. They’re coming out for the experience, being out in the country and picking apples.”

Bock said freshness is another key factor in why apple picking continues to be a tradition for many.

“We’re not picking apples and keeping them in controlled storage for months at a time,” she said. “Ours is just fresh market. They’re picked and sold directly right away.”

Kuipers said the reason why apple picking is so popular at this time of year is easy to pinpoint.

“The weather’s finally not extraordinarily hot,” Kuiper said. “It’s nice. You get to come out on a Saturday. … You get to spend a little bit of time with your family to come out apple picking. Everything’s perfectly ripe now.”

The three orchards have some new, exotic varieties of apples otherwise not sold in the average store.

“There’s new varieties that have been developed, and we planted them several years ago,” Bock at Honey Hill said. “They’re just starting to produce now.” Honey Hill has a variety called Crimson Crisp, among others.

Jonamac Orchard offers Pazazz apples and other varieties.

At Kuipers Family Farm, offerings include EverCrisp, Snow Sweet and some of which have not been named yet but are known as the 1502s and 1503s.

“We get a lot of great responses that people really like them,” Kuipers said. “They’re really big apples. So, people enjoy them. It’s great for families to come out and split.”

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