By Haley Viccaro
ALBANY -- Orchards in New York are warning that a poor apple crop this season will cause them to run out of supply earlier than usual.
Because of fluctuating temperatures last spring, the state Apple Association said this year's harvest produced 14 million bushels, less than half of the 29 million bushels produced last year.
The decline in apple supply -- as much as 90 percent in some places -- forced orchards to cut back on popular pick-your-own events this fall. Farmers, mainly north of the Hudson Valley, said they would be unable to put as many apples into cold storage to keep their shelves stocked and to supply local grocers through the winter.
"We only have about half of a crop throughout New York so we are going to run out of apples earlier than normal," said Molly Golden, director of marketing at the Apple Association. "Normally, farms have apples in a controlled atmosphere storage unit, but there will be much less and ending sooner than normal."
Golden warned of higher prices for apples and cider: "The supply will have to be picked up from other states in the west, which will make prices a little higher than normal."
New York is the second largest apple producer in the country behind Washington state. The Farm Bureau said Michigan and Ohio, two major apple producers, were hit worse than New York, with 80 percent to 90 percent of apples damaged.
Apple trees grew in early March due to unusually high temperatures and then faced cold and frost in April and May, which froze the buds on the trees. As a result, apples had to be picked early and were scarce.
"The trees bloomed early because of the warm weather and then the frost came in and damaged a lot of the blossoms," said state Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Ammerman. "Warm weather in July also decreased the growth of the crop throughout the course of this year."
The orchards that were hardest hit appear to be in the Capital Region and the Finger Lakes, including places north near Lake Ontario, such as in the Rochester area and North Country.
"Last year we had a good turnout of apples, but this year we lost about 90 percent of our apples," said Steve Fobare, co-owner of Fobare's Fruits in Rensselaer Falls, which is in St. Lawrence County near Canada.
There were some alternatives orchards could have taken to save their apple crop from the frost, but extraordinary measures cost extra money and were time consuming.
"We asked about putting water on them, to prevent the frost from penetrating the blossoms," Fobare said. "We were told the only way that works is if you continuously keep that water flowing to melt the frost by using some sort of large sprinkler system."
Judy Russell, owner of Whittier Fruit Farm in Ogden, Monroe County, said apple picking for the public has been limited, both in days and varieties available. She said the farm would be picking through this holiday weekend, but it probably wouldn't last through the month.
"We are a retail apple farm and will be opened through October and close the first weekend in November," Russell said. "Nobody in the area has enough apples for cold storage, and the damage was pretty widespread."
According to the Farm Bureau, some farms set up fans to keep the air moving to decrease frost. In the past, some large orchards paid to bring a helicopter in to hover over the trees.
"Farmers can plan and try to do everything they can, but ultimately they are at the mercy of Mother Nature," Ammerman said. "I am sure they are doing everything they can right now, especially making sure that the trees are healthy and ready to go come next spring."
Orchards located on higher ground and surrounded by water weren't impacted as severely by the cold weather. Apple farms further south, such as in Westchester County, did not experience the damaging effects of the bad weather.
"We have been able to have a crop without feeling the effects of the severe weather like the problem for farms further north," said Randy Pratt, an operator at Wilkens Fruit Farm in Yorktown Heights in Westchester.
Maynard Farms in Ulster Park, Ulster County, barely saw a change in the apple crop. Other farms nearby weren't as luck, he said.
"Our orchard is sandwiched between two bodies of water, so we did not get any frost," said farm owner Tom Maynard. "The wider the river, the more volume of heat because water absorbs the sun's energy all day long. It is kind of like a heat sink."
Apple Hills in Binghamton started picking apples in August, about three weeks earlier than usual. Owner David Johnson said his crop is down about 30 percent, and his season would end early.
"We usually carry apples until the middle of wintertime and will probably be running out between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, so our marketing season will be really short compared to usual," Johnson said.
Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont, Albany County, is selling apples, but has limited apple picking for visitors.
"We have had a few times that we let people pick apples, but the only remaining apple picking opportunity for us would be in late October," said owner Peter Ten Eyck.
The orchard lost about 90 percent of its revenue, and crop insurance will cover about one third of the loss, Ten Eyck said. Ten Eyck said he considered burning some trees to keep the blossoming ones warm. He decided against it, saying that it would hurt the farm long term.
He said it could take years from the farm to bounce back.
"This is our 97th year, and I never heard of anything this bad happening," Ten Eyck said. "We have less than 10 percent of our crop, so this is a tough, tough year for us."