The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

September 21, 2013

Apple orchards feel effects of freak frost

FISHERTOWN — May 14, a day that likely means little to most of us, was a day with a significant impact on the apple crop in the region.

“The apples we have certainly are fine, but it will be 50 to 60 percent of our normal crop,” said Dan Boyer of Ridge Top Orchards in Fishertown, Bedford County.

That weather hiccup that cut deeply into Boyer’s harvest had little or no impact on the apple crop nationwide, where production is expected to be13 percent higher than 2012, with an estimated more than 246 million bushels.

The harvest will be 10 percent higher than the five year average and

14 percent greater than the 2012 harvest, according to figures provided by Wendy Bannen of the U. S. Apple Association.

Locally, the late-season freeze that night pushed temperatures to 25 and 26 degrees at Boyer’s orchard, located just off Route 56. It was enough to freeze some of the nicest apples on the trees.

“It was a long cold night, that night. We had very small apples on the trees – 3 to 4 millimeters in diameter – and they just froze in place,” he said.

The bloom was over and it took a month until the folks at Ridgetop fully realized the extent of loss to the trees in the 450-acre orchard.

“We didn’t think it was going to be as rough as it was,” Boyer said. “But we’re thankful for what he have.”

Much of the crop was lost at a tiny orchard operation in Somerset County, leaving the operators to reduce the hours at the orchard.

“It’s pretty slight. I might have 5 to 10 percent this year,” said Allen Airesman of the apple trees in his 5.5-acre orchard.

Airesman, who sells his crop at the intersection of Bakersville and Edie roads, said he got hit by frost the first week of May and thought he had dodged the bullet.

“Then, I got it, bam,” he said of the mid-May frost. “We’re not going to have a whole lot of anything.”

Sales at Airesman’s market will be reduced to all day Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday until the apple crop and the cider run out.

From a statewide perspective, the May 14 frost had a negative impact on just a small number of growers, said Julie Bancroft, executive director of the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program.

“I would say there was very limited damage,” she said. “We have growers all over the state.”

Statewide estimates are the crop will total just less than

10 million bushels, down a little from the 10.5 million bushels of 2012.

“The fruit size is looking good right now, and all of the varieties will be available,” she said.

The mid-May cold temperatures impacted not only those in Bedford and Somerset counties, but in other parts of the state as well, said Robert Crassweller, professor of horticulture at Penn State.

The unseasonably warm spring of 2012 brought one of the earliest apple bloom seasons on record, Crassweller said.

This year, the bloom season was about normal, but the mid-May cold snap is impacting the harvest.

“The end result was that in some orchards at lower elevations there was little or no fruit,” he said. “As you progressed up higher elevations there was less damage.”

In some cases reported to Crassweller, there is little or no fruit on the lower half of the tree where the temperature was lower, and then a better crop at the top of the same tree where temperatures were slightly warmer.

The big winners this year are the states of New York and Michigan, which in 2012 had at or near records for apple loss due to cold spring temperatures.

The nationwide apple crop means prices for table fruit likely will not increase and retailers should be offering some attractive specials, Boyer said.

Adams County leads the state in apple production and the apple association and the United States Department of Agricultural Statistical Services lists Pennsylvania as fourth in apple production nationwide.

Washington state leads the country with New York coming in a far second and Michigan is third. California is just after Pennsylvania followed by Virginia.

Kathy Mellott covers agricultural issues for The Tribune-Democrat. Follower her on Twitter at kathymellotttd.

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