Spring’s wild weather will put a dent in this year’s apple crop, area growers say.
Summer-like temperatures in March spurred apple trees to bud earlier than usual, but things turned wintry later in the month and many tender buds and blooms were destroyed. April frosts and recent hailstorms have added to the damage.
The late March frost took a toll at DeVoe’s Rainbow Orchards in Halfmoon.
“It pretty much froze out two orchards, and the one that we had a wind machine in, we had a fair crop there, but then we got hail a week ago Thursday and I don’t know what’s left,” owner Larry DeVoe said.
It will be another four or five weeks before the true extent of damage to the crop at the 40-acre orchard can be assessed, he estimated.
“It’s going to hurt, but you know that you’ve got to deal with the weather and that’s all there is to it. That’s part of farming,” he said. “The only trouble is it’s getting to the point now, with the economy the way it is, there’s no net left for you to be able to ride bad years out.”
Duane Lindsey, manager of Lindsey’s Idyllwood Orchard in Clifton Park, estimated that 40 to 50 percent of his apple crop was lost to the April frosts. He’s also worried about hail damage to the golf ball-size fruit that remains on the trees in the 22-acre orchard.
“We’ll end up with marks on the sides of the apples. It just makes little dings in them at this time of year. A hailstorm won’t ruin them, but it definitely disfigures them,” he said.
Although his apple harvest will be smaller than usual, he predicted the apples will likely be larger.
“An apple tree can grow X amount of pounds of apples and that can be thousands of little apples or hundreds of big apples,” he explained.
Isabel Prescott, owner of Riverview Orchards in Clifton Park, estimated that 75 percent of her apple crop fell victim to the March frost. She said that although the farm will take a big financial hit, there will still be apples available beginning at the end of August.
Terrace Mountain Orchard in Schoharie fared slightly better than some others, said Rene Perrone, who owns the orchard with his wife, Winifred.
“Later in April we had temperatures of 27 and 28 and a frost, but … we built several fires on the west side of the orchard so that when the wind was blowing from the west, it would raise the cold temperature, making it warmer, and we think that might have helped a great deal,” he said.
Perrone believes that the 1,300-foot elevation of his 37-acre orchard, which he says is ideal, and an almost constant breeze also helped him avoid some frost damage.
His trees did not escape completely unscathed, however. Weather damage to date could still have affected up to 50 percent of his crop, “which wouldn’t wipe us out, but it would hurt,” he said.
The apples that remain on trees are growing quickly, he noted.
“We’ve had a good combination of sunshine and rain so far, and that will keep them growing,” he said.
Although there were locations that completely escaped the wrath of Mother Nature, orchards across the state suffered varied amounts of damage in spring’s extreme weather, according to Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association.
“We know that we’re not going to have a typical bumper crop, but we just don’t know the extent of the damage,” he said.
A more accurate assessment can be made after the June drop, when apple trees shed their excess fruit.
A normal fruit tree produces many more blossoms than needed, he noted.
“If only 15 percent of all the blossoms turn into an apple, that would be a full crop,” he said. “ … So when you get a natural weather phenomenon such as a freeze, again, that does a lot of the thinning for you, so you still have to wait to see what’s going to stick on the tree.”