Monday, September 26, 2016

Apples Smaller, But Sweeter This Year Due to Drought

From Empire Farm & Dairy magazine:


Some New York state apples
It’s a wonder there’s any type of apple crop in New York state this year.

All sorts of calamities have hit this growing season, from early bud to late frost to no rain.

But still, somehow, the apples survived, grew and this season, New York is seeing a “great” apple harvest.

“By the time this crop gets off the trees and to market, all New York state apple fans are going to see is ‘great’ — great variety, great quality and great flavor,” said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association.

Allen said that despite early budding of trees throughout the state, a late frost and hail hitting some areas, the state’s apple producers still will pick about 30 million cartons of fruit this year. This is down from the 32 million picked last year, but still above the state’s average crop of 28.6 million cartons over the last five years.

A check around the state shows a hit and miss on varieties and what growers have been able to harvest.

In Central New York, early varieties like Paula Red are OK, but some later varieties have been nearly wiped out.

At Adam’s Acres, a certified organic orchard in Jamesville, Onondaga County, this is the dire note on the business’s website:

New York snapdragon apples
“This year’s crop is the worst we have had. The spring winter weather killed most of our apple buds. Then the drought caused the limited fruit to be small. Also last week’s storms destroyed about 200 of our trees. The end result is we lost our early varieties. We will not be in full operations until mid-September. And we will have little or no Honeycrisp this year!”

Others echo this sad tale.

James Sims at Owen Orchards in Sennett, Cayuga County, said they lost from 50 to 60 percent of their crop due to the early frost.

“It was just 3 to 4 degrees too cold right after budding,” Sims said. “And we’ve got no peaches this year. They were frozen.”

Another orchard seeing the bad effects of Mother Nature this year is O’Neill’s Orchard in LaFayette, Onondaga County. This is the note from its website: “A warm winter resulted in an early bud break. Subsequent freeze/frost events contributed to varietal loss of up to 100 percent on certain varieties. 

Apple picking will be severely curtailed.”

The same is true at Beak & Skiff, also in LaFayette. Mark Fleckenstein, a co-owner of the business, characterized this year’s crop as “good,” but said two frosts killed off a number of buds on his trees.

“The crop is lighter in the valley,” he said.

It got much colder in the valley areas of his orchard than on the hills during the Feb. 14 and April 5 freezes, killing off some buds.

The apples that are on the trees — and many orchards have trees filled with fruit — may be smaller in size this year due to the drought. But the quality of the apples won’t be harmed at all — in fact, Allen said the lack of water makes the apples crunchier and sweeter because with less water content, the concentration of sugars in each apple is higher.

“There is plenty of fruit on the trees this year, they’re just smaller in size than usual. Moms and kids will be especially happy,” Allen said.

And when speaking about the apple sweetness caused by the drought, he said “even downsides can have upsides in this industry.”

“We have a lack of size, but they’re sweeter — the sugar is high,” Fleckenstein said.

“The big loss this year of course with the dry weather is size (of the apples),” said David Frost, owner of McPherson Orchards and Christmas Tree Farm in Genesee County. 

“While normally we would start picking right now (early September), they are so small I’m not sure if I’ll pick any ... Later varieties have another 30 days pretty much, give or take. So depending on weather again, how much size they’ll put on by then, time will tell,” he said.

Frost said apples need a consistent rain throughout the season to grow large.

“A number of the showers we had (this year) had been so small — a tenth, two tenths, three tenths,” he said. “They don’t get down anywhere. The surface gets wet, but it doesn’t penetrate or go anywhere. We just needed one of those day-long rains where it would push water down and get down to where it needs to be.”

In the Hudson Valley’s apple region, growers also are seeing smaller apples, but good quality apples.

“Everything is a little bit smaller this year than it was last year, but it’s still good fruit and it’s still fruit that you would like to pick,” said Bill Philip, owner of Philip Orchards in Claverack, Columbia County.

The orchard grows about 15 varieties of apples and about five types of pears. Philip said the pears don’t seem to be affected by the drought.

In Kinderhook, Yonder Fruit Farms, a garden center and farm market, has also seen smaller-sized apples this year because of the weather conditions.

“We are starting to pick some apples and they are smaller in size because of the drought,” said Peter Chiraro, the owner of the farm located in Columbia County.

Yonder Fruit Farms sells fruits, vegetables, flowers and more at various locations throughout the Capital Region. The farm’s pick-your-own orchards are located in Valatie, also in Columbia County.

Chiraro is worried consumers will buy fewer apples because of their size.

“It hurts us because we are not going to have the size in apples. There’s going to be less buying because it’s smaller,” he said.

The farm has been irrigating crops since May in an effort to provide relief from the drought.

In Greene County, Henry Boehm, owner of Boehm Farm in Climax, said droughts haven’t affected his apples and irrigation is important in order to have a bountiful apple crop.

“We irrigate, so we got nice apples,” Boehm said.

However, his peach crop wasn’t so lucky. Boehm said the flower bud of the peach plant is more susceptible to freezing and in February all it took was two days to kill the peach crop entirely.

“There’s no peaches, they froze in February,” he said.

He added normal winter weather doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on his crops overall.

“It doesn’t seem to make much difference,” Boehm said.

Allen of the apple association said the state’s growers are growing more of the varieties that apple fans love — including new favorites Gala and Honeycrisp, and old New York favorites McIntosh and Empire.

“Our growers produce more apples now on fewer acres because of technology — smaller trees that produce more fruit, computer-aided packing and sorting, and high-tech cold storage that puts apples to sleep until they are ready to ship to stores,” he said.

And by buying local New York state apples, consumers support hundreds of farm families.

“Many of our families have been growing apples for several generations,” Allen said. “It’s always exciting to see the next generation getting involved.”

For more information on New York apples, go to On that site, you will find a variety guide to figure out exactly which apple is best for your plans (fresh eating, baking, salads) and when those varieties are normally available.

Contributing to this story: Victoria Addison and Daniel Zuckermanm, Columbia-Greene Media; Mallory Diefenbach, Daily News in Batavia.

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