Some local apple farmers are expecting a bountiful crop this year following last year’s hail-battered season that saw a 5 percent drop in statewide apple production.
The seemingly constant rain has made it difficult to maintain treatments on trees to protect them from pests, but it hasn’t affected the growth of fruit so far, said Tom Bellinger from Bellinger’s Orchards in the town of Glen.
“There’s going to be a good amount of apples,” Bellinger said.
Bellinger’s orchards were hit with some light hail during the past few weeks, but he said he’s been lucky enough to dodge major hail damage for the past 15 years.
“It only takes five or 10 minutes of hail to ruin the whole crop,” Bellinger said.
The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service on Thursday reported that state’s apple crop dropped by 5 percent last year, with 1,250 million pounds produced compared with 1,310 million pounds in 2007.
Fresh market apples were down 23 percent from 2007 but apples for processing were up by 13 percent compared with 2007, in part because apples and other fruits got beat up pretty badly during hail storms last year, Agricultural Statistics Service spokeswoman Marisa Reuber said.
A June 16 hail storm last summer damaged apples and other fruit crops so badly that the federal government started offering low-interest loans for farmers in 40 counties, including Fulton, Schoharie, Montgomery, Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga and Rensselaer. The damage forced producers to sell the dented and bruised apples for processing.
Farmer Joe Fydenkevez from Bohringer’s Fruit Farm in Middleburgh said the orchard took hail damage last year but he doesn’t believe the farm lost business; they just had fewer “No. 1” apples for sale and sold more “utility apples,” which people cut up and use for pies and other treats.
“This year, things look great,” Fydenkevez said.
Farmer Jim Hoffman was plucking tiny apples from branches at the 2,000-tree Sand Flats Orchard in Mohawk on Thursday.
The trees were showing abundant growth, and thinning the fruit will foster the growth of fewer yet bigger apples, he said.
“It looks good so far, if we don’t get hail,” Hoffman said.
Apple trees need to be treated to prevent disease, and the constant rain washes treatments off. The need for treating them again can increase costs, farmers said Thursday.
New York state ranks second in apple production nationwide, with Washington state on the top of the list.
Although acreage figures are not available for last year, a June report from the New York Field Office of the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service indicates that the total acreage of fruit farms in New York state increased between 2002 and 2007.
There were 2,639 fruit farms in the state in 2007, down 2 percent compared with 2002.
The total acreage of fruit farms — 99,658 — was up by 1 percent over the five-year period, according to the USDA.
According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, Wayne County led New York in terms of apple acreage with 20,862 acres.
Apples produced during last year’s season in New York were valued at more than $260 million, down from $288 million in 2007, which was considered a banner year, the USDA said.
Nationwide, 2008 apple production is estimated at 9.68 billion pounds, an increase of 7 percent compared with 2007.