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Apple orchard at harvest time. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/88499915@N00/">Winnie Au</a>, cc <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en">some rights reserved</a>
Apple orchard at harvest time. Photo: Winnie Au, cc some rights reserved

Defying weather, North Country apples thrive

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting low yield for New York's apple crop, about half of last year. Growers blame the spring weather: It was unseasonably warm in March, and trees started to bud. In some areas, they bloomed. Then in April, temperatures dipped below freezing, killing the blossoms. It's the same story in many apple growing states, including Washington and Michigan.

NCPR has been checking in with Patricia Sheehan of Rulf's Orchard in Peru throughout the season. And when Julie Grant spoke with her this week, Sheehan had good news: Her trees, and many in the North Country, didn't bloom in March, and so weren't killed off in the April frost. Still, she says the dry summer has had an effect on the apples.

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We started picking the first of the crop in July, and the first of the apples have been a little small, but we still have three or four weeks before the fall crop is in. so they’re starting to pick up a little with the rain that we’re getting.

So when you say the crop is small you mean the apples themselves are small?

The apples themselves are small because we didn’t get the rain that they need to gro.

Does that make them more sour do you think?

Does it change the flavor? Probably not, because the apple if I’m picking an apple right now it’s ripe, whether it’s sour or sweet, it’s ripe.

And are you picking earlier this year?

The apples have come in a little earlier, yes. The normal target date for the early July apples would be the 20th and I think we actually picked a few apples on the 10th or the 12th, so yes because we had that warm spell on the 12th everything kind of started waking up a little bit earlier.

The USDA is predicting for New York an apple crop that’s about 52 percent of last year’s crop. Does that sound about what you’re seeing?

Here’s the thing—it’s not just us. When you say New York state, you’re talking about western New York, that was hit hard with frost, you’re talking about the Hudson Valley, which is big in apples. They also lost part of their crop. Our crops here in the Champlain Valley have come through. If we have 100 percent of ours, and the Hudson Valley has half of their crop, then I suppose that would be 50 percent. We’re just far enough north that our bloom was later, their bloom was right in the area where we had the cold weather.

Yours hadn’t bloomed yet so the frost hadn’t killed the blooms?

Exactly. That’s where you lose your crops, when you’re in blossom and you get frost it freezes what would be a potential apple. Every blossom has five potential apples, it’s a cluster. So every blossom that gets hit by frost, you lose that cluster of apples.

So your apples are looking smaller in size, but you have as many apples as you’ve had in the past.

Exactly. We were spared the most part, we did not get hit as bad with the frost as the other areas, so our apple crop is looking good aside from the fact that we have had, we’re just starting to get some rain in the last few weeks, so we have a few weeks left before we start the real harvest, so the apples will have a chance to pick up in size, but the size of the crop is looking very good actually.

Are prices up for you? Are you getting more for your apples?

We haven’t officially started picking the crop yet, so I think that would remain to be seen.  But quite possibly if there are very few apples in New York state, that’s the rule of thumb, price will go up because there are less.

Is it just getting harder to grow apples?

Every year provides you with something new, whether it’s a tornado that we’ve had, whether it’s the frost in the spring. You’re at the mercy of nature. Is it getting harder? No. You don’t know what’s coming.

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