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Dean Beckstead
Dean Beckstead

Ontario apple orchard surveys this year's crop damage

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Unusual weather this spring took a heavy toll on fruit growers across the region. Industry observers estimated crop damage to Ontario's apple crop at well over 80%. Smyth's Apple Orchard in South Dundas, Ontario was planted in the mid-1800's, very near where the first McIntosh Red apple was discovered in 1811. About 90 acres of apples are still grown at the 5th generation family operation. Smyth Orchard's Dean Beckstead told Lucy Martin it's going to be a very difficult year.

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Many of the trees in Dean Beckstead’s orchard have few if any apples. According to him, the weather was too hot too early in the spring, and this caused the trees to start to grow. The weeks of cold weather that followed caused frost damage to the trees. “Right now, you have to get pretty close to some of these trees to see the apples,” said Beckstead. “There’s a few at the top, and some in the middle, but down in here, there’s just a couple apples.”

“Off the start, we were hoping that we had at least 30% of a crop, but right now the apples are getting close to golf-ball size and there’s no more apples showing up or popping out through the leaves. We’re more or less guessing we’re about 15% of a crop is all we have,” said Beckstead. This is an 85% loss for the orchard. Of all the varieties of apple, Beckstead says that that the Paula Red and Jersey Mac apples did the best this year. However, these apples appear early in the season, and the later apples are the ones that are struggling.

“It’s whacked everybody right across Ontario, plus Quebec and New York State. You’re going to see prices come up because, well, they have to. Your cost, your overhead, just to maintain your orchard, from spraying to mowing to your neighbor to get them picked; it doesn’t matter if you have 100 apples out there or if you have a million apples hanging on the trees, it costs the same amount every year just to grow those few apples,” said Beckstead. “If you take a year where you lose money, you can’t get it back, you’re done.”

Beckstead says that this is some of the worst damage he’s seen in his time as an apple grower. He remembers years where the orchard only had about 15% of a crop for two years in a row. “For me, for our business, I’m hoping we have just enough to scrape by this year. It’s going to be tough,” said Beckstead. According to him, crop insurance only lightens the blow to a small degree since it doesn’t come close to covering costs.

“For putting people out of business in our industry, I wouldn’t think so, but it will make a lot of people think twice about it. There’s only a handful of us that grow apples for a living,” said Beckstead. “With us, we’re just sole income from the apples. With a year like this year, we’re going to have to tighten the belts pretty good.” This means that the orchard won’t be able to give their usual donations to local causes.

“Number one is we have to get through this year first before we can get back to our regular routine. We will not know exactly what we’ll have for a crop 100% until they’re all picked and off the trees and in our storages,” said Beckstead. He hopes that consumers will remember to buy local produce this year.

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