CAPITAL REGION – Don Dunbar speculates that roughly 70% of his grapes in Middleburgh were decimated by a mid-May chill.
“That’s a ballpark figure because it’s still a little early to see how things come back,” said the Middleburgh Winery co-owner. “Some will just be happy to have the grapevines live because all the green was gone.”
Much of Dunbar’s hybrids seemingly withstood the frost, while less temperature-resistant varieties such as Riesling succumbed to the elements.
In upstate New York, temperatures dipped down to in between 34 to 25 degrees in the wee hours of May 18 — the makings of a late-season frost coupled with early bloom. Some temperatures hitting the 80s in April caused bud shoots to form ahead of schedule.
Early projections show crop loss between 20% to 50% across the state. The Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley and western New York are believed to have taken the brunt of the damage.
In Kinderhook, Doug Grout of Golden Harvest Farms said that the situation isn’t yet comparable to 2012, when swaths of apple yields were killed off early in the season.
But time will tell, he added. There are some ominous signs out in the Columbia County orchard.
“There’s definitely damage out there,” Grout said. “With some tiny apples right after petal fall, you can see they might be five or six millimeters and a lot of those have just stuck in your tracks there.”
Throughout the greater Albany metro area, factors such as terrain, species, wind speed and terrain play a role in the endurance of crops.
DeVoe’s Orchard in Halfmoon took some minor damage after failing to get its wind machines on before sunup. The system provides continuous airflow to prevent icy layers from settling.
Typically around this time, orchard trees will begin to abort unfit apples. This year, the process appears to be occurring earlier as a result of the freeze, said Alan DeVoe, of DeVoe’s Orchard.
A number of wine producers reported barely any damage as well. Ives Hollow Vineyard in Rensselaer County expects that about 3% to 5% of its vines were damaged, and the rest were shielded by a surrounding forest.
Jim Besha Sr., of Clover Pond Vineyard in Guilderland, credited the resilience of his crop load to the rolling landscape of his Western Turnpike property, pushing frost to settle at the bottom of each hill.
“It wasn’t super cold, and again, the way we were planted on the hills, we seem to have avoided the worst of it,” said Besha.
Vines can endure below-freezing temperatures for about an hour. Any longer than that can lead to crop loss, as it did in the Finger Lakes region, where some vineyards already expect a total loss before harvest.
For grape and apple producers alike, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have advocated for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare the frost a disaster in order to allow low-interest financing to cover damages. Eligible producers must be in a county that has experienced a 30% production loss of at least one crop or face limited lending options.
Additionally, the Senate Democrats are pushing for growers to tap funds from the Tree Assistance Program, a provision under the 2014 Farm Bill which provides financial assistance in the event of trees, bushes and vines destroyed during a natural disaster.
Orchards and vineyards mean big business for the state’s agricultural sector, netting a more-than-$16 billion combined annual economic impact. New York currently ranks second in the nation for apple production and third for winemaking.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.