This past spring, an arctic blast that chilled the city also threatened to wipe out the apple population at Hudson Valley farms, with farmers worried an entire season's worth of crops could be lost. As it turns out, farmers were justifiably concerned, with some farms reporting a significant loss to their apple crops and a devastating loss to stone fruit trees.
"Almost as bad as we feared, worse than we hoped," Josh Morgenthau of Fishkill Farms in Hopewell Junction, NY told us about the outcome to the trees. Morgenthau says he's looking at a loss between 50 and 60% to the farm's apple crop and peaches and nectarines were less than 5% of a normal crop. "I'm happy that we have fruit on the trees—and we did pick a lot of apples and it wasn't a total wipeout—but it was as much of our crop as we've seen lost to this type of event in recent years."
Morgenthau says it wasn't just the arctic blast that did in the fruit trees. Extreme drought over the summer and a difficult year for insect pests further plagued the already damaged trees, resulting in a bigger loss.
Fred Wiklow of Wiklow Orchards, about 45 minutes north of Fishkill, had a similarly bad outcome to his trees. "Apples did better than we expected," he told us. "I think we've got maybe 60 - 70% of the crops, so more than we thought that we were going to get in the spring." There was a 100% loss on peaches, however, and only one variety of plums managed to make it through.
"It's not only the cold weather during bloom, but also during bloom we had several days of cold, rainy weather and the bees won't work in that weather," Wiklow explained. "The blossoms are only viable for a certain amount of time, so if they go too long without the bees having the opportunity to pollinate, you don't get any apples."
Both Wiklow and Morgenthau expect crops to return to normal for next season—and by taking the opportunity to aggressively prune trees, there's even hope for a bumper crop—but not before revenue takes a dip.
"In terms of our total revenue, it's not devastating, although it's a big hit," Morgenthau said. "But compared to a farm that only grows peaches or apples, let's say...the bottom line is that our fruit production income is going to be 50% of what it was last year and that's a big part of our business."
There's also concern about these types of events repeating themselves, especially in the new, more volatile weather conditions brought on by climate change. "We had a very bad crop year with spring frosts in 2012 and both in 2012 and this year, people were saying this is a one in 20 year, one in 30 year occurrence," Morgenthau recalled. "So I'm not convinced that it's now not a one in four year occurrence."
Unfortunately, there's not much of anything either farm can do to protect itself against future crop failure events. "There's not a lot we can do on the fruit production side, but that is why we've chosen to become more diverse in terms of what we're growing and how we're creating revenue," Morgenthau explained.
Pick 'em while you can.