Ontario, U.S. apples hurt by late April freezes

05/10/2012 12:41:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Freezing temperatures at the end of April could have a devastating effect on Ontario apple crops, and U.S. grower-shippers also were affected.

Temperatures that dipped into the 20s caused widespread damage to Ontario’s apple orchards, said Kelly Ciceran, general manager of the Vineland-based Ontario Apple Growers.

That cold snap followed an abnormally warm March, which caused trees to bloom a month earlier than normal, exposing them to late freezes.

All Ontario growers were affected by the freezes, and some lost their entire crops, according to the association. About 16,000 acres of apples are grown in Ontario each year.

“This is a unique year,” Ciceran said. “We don’t experience damage as widespread as that.”

Volumes of Ontario apples will be down, and consumers will likely be paying more for them this season, Ciceran said. Ontario growers typically begin harvesting apples in late August, she said.

As of May 8, it was too soon to estimate the extent of damage, Ciceran said.

“We’ll have to wait until June to determine the full impact,” she said.

Ciceran also was uncertain whether the losses would lead to increased imports from U.S. growers.

The same cold weather that afflicted Ontario also damaged U.S. apple crops in the Upper Midwest and Northeast.

“There was some damage, but growers worked tirelessly during those cold nights” to mitigate damage, said Diane Smith, interim director of the Lansing-based Michigan Apple Committee.

Wind machines, helicopters, heaters and water are among the tools Michigan growers have used this spring to protect fruit, and those efforts were largely successful with earlier freezes. Smith is optimistic the same will be true for the late April freezes.

“A lot of growers are seeing hope,” she said. “We’re just taking it day by day.”

The Michigan apple industry will get its first comprehensive look at projected damage after its annual crop “Guesstimate,” set for June 6, Smith said.

In New York, temperatures dipped into the mid-20s for two nights at the end of April, and a third night also was unseasonably cold, said Jay Toohill, general manager of Chazy, N.Y.-based Chazy Orchards Inc.

Fortunately, he said, trees were not yet in bloom.

“We were at a better stage, and we hope the damage is minimal.”

That said, as of May 10, it was too soon to tell the extent of damage, Toohill said.

Tim Mansfield, sales and marketing director with Burt, N.Y.-based Sun Orchard Fruit Co., said that shippers would have a good idea by July of the extent of damage.

Even in early May, however, it was clear there was a considerable amount.

“There are going to be significant losses,” Mansfield said.

Red delicious and empires will likely be among the varieties hit hardest, he said.



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