The apple harvest is coming in early, and it will be smaller and pricier, but sweeter.
“We had all that beautiful weather in March that we were so happy about … [Now] all of us in the fruit industry are going ‘Oh crap!’?” said Wendy Oakes-Wilson, treasurer of LynOaken farms in Lyndonville.
The warm temperatures in March, followed by frosts in April, caused many fruit, including apples and cherries, to blossom early and not survive the frost. That, combined with the uncharacteristically dry and hot summer, means the fall harvest will be lighter and come earlier, resulting in rising prices.
But the weather also has had its positives – the fruit will likely be sweeter, which is especially good for wine grapes.
“It’s a two-sided coin,” said Terence Robinson, a professor in Cornell University’s department of horticulture. “The bright sunshine has made this fruit really sweet and really high-quality. So we’re not going to have near what we should have, but what we have is very high-quality.”
The apple harvest will be down by about 52 to 53 percent across the state, said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association. This means about 14 million bushels will be harvested, compared with the normal 30 million.
New York State is the second-largest apple-producing state in the country, just behind Washington, which experienced crop damage this year from hail.
Certain varieties that bloomed earlier will be in shorter supply than others, including Red Delicious, Cortland and Empire.
Oakes-Wilson said her farm is expecting to harvest only 125 bins of Empire apples, compared with the normal 1,500. The dry weather, however, means the apples will have a higher concentration of sugar, which is better for apple cider.
Local growers will have to make sacrifices this fall in whom they sell to. Senek Farms, for example, will not be selling wholesale apples to people who pack apples, said Sheri Senek.
The significantly lower yield means the price of apples will rise $2 to $4 per half-bushel, she said. She did not give a set price for a half-bushel, because prices change based on where the apples are sold.
“We have some of everything, but we don’t have anything near the quantity we’d normally have,” Senek said.
While apple growers are hurting from the weather, grape growers, particularly those who use the grapes for wine, have little to complain about.
Dry weather is good for wine grapes because it makes them sweeter and more flavorful, said Robin Ross, vineyard manager at Arrowhead Spring Vineyards in Lockport. The warm weather also has caused the grapes to ripen earlier by about two weeks, she said.
Oakes-Wilson called it a “banner year” for wine grapes.
While the weather has taken a toll on apples and other fruit, the damage has not been as bad to pumpkins, squash, corn and other vegetables, farmers and experts say.
Ed Luzak of Luzak Farms in Burton, for example, said squash, corn and peppers are very sweet this year.
He and his wife, Kathy, grow smaller patches than farmers in the Midwest, so it is easier for them to irrigate the crops to combat the dry weather.
The major change for crops like pumpkins is that they will be harvested earlier and might be a little smaller. The dry weather, however, could cause them to keep longer, said Leon Lapp, who grows pumpkins on his farm in Somerset.
It’s important to keep the vines healthy to extend the life of the pumpkins, he said. But overall, he doesn’t expect a shortage for the Halloween season.
He’ll be ready to bring his pumpkins to the market around Sept. 20, he said, and he’s hoping they’ll catch the eye of children and start selling earlier.
Vegetable farmers experienced the most difficulty at the beginning of the summer, when they were trying to plant seeds and spur growth, said Robert Hadad, Cornell regional vegetable specialist. The late summer rains may also have come at just the right time, which could help keep the plants at a normal size.
Although each farmer was affected slightly differently by the weather, depending on farm location and crops, no one escaped some level of change due to the warm days in March and the very dry summer.
From pumpkin growers to apple growers, most farmers are hoping this year’s weather was a fluke and that the harvest will be back to normal next year.
“We ourselves at LynOaken Farms have never seen anything like this before, and we’ve been in business since 1919,” said Oakes-Wilson. “It’s very strange. Let’s hope it doesn’t replicate itself any time soon.”