Most Iowa farmers are busy harvesting corn and soybeans right now, but others are putting in long hours picking and selling alternative crops. In rural Tama County, Dave Hinegarden is farming what could definitely be called a “diversified” operation. “We have about 40 acres of apples, plus we have strawberries, rasberries, melons, pumpkins and squash,” Hinegarden said.
The farm includes 150 cattle and 400 acres of traditional Iowa crops. At this time of year, Hinegarden is picking apples from more than 3,000 trees. He sells the fruit at a few local grocery stores, at farmers markets in Grinnell and Des Moines and directly from the farm.
Hinegarden will wrap up his corn harvest later this Fall, then he’ll return to the apple orchard for pruning. “That’s the part I hate,” Hinegarden admitted. “We start (pruning) in December and we usually get done during the girls state basketball tournament. Three of us to do it. We have two hydraulic machines that’ll lift you up. Most of our trees take 20 minutes.”
The 63-year-old Hinegarden entered the apple business when his parents planted 600 trees on the farm nearly a half-century ago. Hinegarden isn’t sure what the future holds for the operation. “Every year, we plant about 50 or 60 new trees. It’ll be seven years before we really get any income out of those trees,” Hinegarden said. “So, I’ll be 70 and I tell people I’ll probably be so senile by then that I won’t remember where I planted ’em.”
According to the Iowa Department of Agriculture, there are nearly 40 apple orchards in operation around the state.