July 10, 2012
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Trauma in Apple Orchards

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Crazy weather damaged most of local crop . . . .

Do you eat an apple a day? Chances are, your apples won’t be local ones this year.

Crazy weather caused an estimated 88% damage to the apple crop in Ontario. Hardest hit are earlier blooming varieties, including McIntosh, Empire, Crispin and Red Delicious. Not as bad: Gala, Northern Spy and my favourite eating apple, the premium-priced Honeycrisp.

“Mother Nature woke up from her slumber a little confused,” says Kelly Ciceran, general manager of the Ontario Apple Growers, an association based in Vineland Station. Ciceran traces the “industry trauma” back to the mild winter, warm March, then a dozen “frost events.” Cold weather in April “really hurt the blossoms,” she says.

       Seed missing in deformed young apple on left. Credit: Susan Sampson

Farmers, packing houses and fruit processors are affected. Ontario is the largest apple-producing province in Canada, with farmers normally growing 8 to 9 million bushels for fresh consumption and processing. There are about 215 commercial apple growers in the province, producing 15 varieties.

Art Moyer is one of them. I got a chance to inspect some of the damage during a visit to his orchard near Grimsby, one of the stops on the Farm & Food Care tour last month.

The trees should have been lush with young fruit on that glorious sunny day. Instead, Moyer pointed out some little apples near the ends of the limbs, a result of inferior “secondary bloom.” Frost destroyed early blossoms. A tree that would normally be laden with hundreds of apples might end up yielding maybe a dozen, some of them deformed.

Apples are not the only fruit affected. And frost is not the farmer’s only enemy. Moyer also grows pears, sour cherries and grapes, and in the process, fights off pests ranging from deer to maggots to mites, as well as plant diseases and mildew. He showed us a cherry seedling that had been chewed by deer, despite two repellents: scented dryer cloth tacked to the scraggly trunk and chicken meal ash scattered around the base.