An unusually warm start to the spring season has now left many apple orchards with a below-average crop. As a result of 80-degree temperatures this past March, an extremely poor apple crop has caused many farms and orchards to cancel the "pick-your-own" events commonly held throughout New England in the early fall.
"Even having a regular spring frost in May, the apple blossoms ended up being way ahead of schedule," said Steve Gougeon, owner of Bear Swamp Orchard in Ashfield. "A lot of orchards got what they call ‘frosted out.'"
Gougeon was one of lucky few in Western Massachusetts. His crop has been plentiful for this fall and he has been able to open up his orchard to apple pickers on the weekends. The reason his apple crop did well has a lot to do with the lay of the land, noting that a killing springtime frost can be very dependent on the topography.
"If your orchard was on a hillside and you had really good air moving through it, you may not have had problems getting frosted out," said Gougeon. "If your orchard was in a lower flat area like in a lot of valleys, you were way more susceptible to having complete loss to your entire crop."
As fickle as Mother Nature can be, the difference of just two degrees can spell the difference between a minor loss and a completely devastating frost. At Bear Swamp Orchard this spring, just one degree cooler and Gougeon's crop could have suffered the same fate as many others.
"From 27 degrees (Fahrenheit) you'll have about 10 percent blossom frost, but at 25 degrees you'll end up with about 90 percent," said Gougeon. "So it's just a small window where you could lose everything. We actually had temperatures down at about 26 degrees at our orchard."
Nationwide, apple production is down about 10 percent from the average annual crop of 225 million bushels. Every region except the state of Washington is expected to be below average this year.
Bear Swamp Orchard will have one final weekend of apple picking beginning Friday, Oct. 5 through Monday, Oct. 8 (Columbus Day).
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