Unusual weather affects apple crop

ADDISON COUNTY — Every orchard agrees: The story of this year’s harvest started in the spring.
“It got too hot too soon,” said Bob Douglas, the co-owner of Douglas Orchards in Shoreham, of the unusual warm spell that hit around St. Patrick’s Day. “Everything blossomed early. But the frost still came along when it always does, and killed those blossoms.”
And while Douglas’s crop is going to come in below average, other Addison County orchards are expecting a decent year.
2012 has been a year of bizarre weather phenomena, from the wildfires in the Mountain West to the melting of nearly all of Greenland’s surface ice. Closer to home, the effect of unusual weather plays out in more nuanced ways, though it is often no less devastating.
“We started off the season with about half of our normal crop,” Douglas said.
That trend will likely continue through the harvest at Douglas Orchards. The farm averages 25,000 to 30,000 bushels of apples per year; this year it expects the yield to range from 10,000 to 15,000.
For the owners of Middlebury’s Happy Valley Orchard, the spring frost was damaging enough that they leased another orchard in New Haven.
“That’s what saved us,” said Stan Pratt, who owns Happy Valley with his wife, Mary, noting that they expect to get thousands of bushels out of the leased lot.
Dryness throughout the summer, which stresses the apple trees, was “an added kick,” Douglas said. A couple of hail storms also contributed to damages.
But not every orchard was having a bad year. Eric Boire, the farm manager at Sunrise Orchards, said that he and owners Barney and Chris Hodges were thankful that the weather hadn’t done much damage to their crops. Though Sunrise was hit with frost and hail like other orchards, Boire said it was nothing compared to what they had experienced in past years.
“We just spent three years getting wiped out,” Boire said. “This year we intend to pick a near-full crop. In a year when so many people don’t have apples, we’re counting ourselves lucky.”
All three orchards are moving ahead with pick-your-own, though Douglas expects his orchard won’t put much of its harvest into long-term storage.
“Everything’s early this year,” he said, “so everyone should come by now!”
Boire said that he and everyone at Sunrise Orchards are “getting our McIntosh on.”
“We’ve got a lot of apples right now,” Boire said.
The Pratts at Happy Valley, despite a rough start to the year, are also looking forward to harvest season.
“We still have plenty of apples to sell,” Stan Pratt said. And most importantly:
“We’re still having fun,” he chuckled.
Reporter Xian Chiang-Waren can be reached at [email protected].

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