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Fruit growers in western Massachusetts assessing crop loss after May freeze

Fresh-picked apples.
Nancy Eve Cohen
Fresh-picked apples.

A late-season frost in the early hours last Thursday has hit some western Massachusetts fruit farmers hard.

The freeze came when apple trees were blooming or just past bloom and the tiny, tender fruits were starting to develop.

University of Massachusetts Amherst extension educator Jon Clements said apple growers are still assessing the damage.

"I don't want to be too, too bleak because we just kind of have to wait and see," Clements said. "I'm pretty sure there will be apples. It's just not going to be a full crop."

Clements estimates about a third of the apple crop was destroyed state wide.

Peter Mitchell of Headwater Cider in Hawley said at his orchard it dropped to 27 degrees and lasted about six hours.

"It was just constantly cold and the duration of the cold caused even more damage. I'd estimate we lost about half the crop," Mitchell said.

He estimates it will cost him a third to a half of his income.

Naomi Clark of Clark Brothers Orchards in Ashfield said the damage from the frost on her 65 acres of apple trees is widespread. However, it's too soon to calculate the damage.

She said crop insurance might cover some of the expenses of growing.

"It's not like it makes up for losing your crop, but it helps it hurt a little less," Clark said.

The freeze to apple trees comes after most of the peach crop in Massachusetts was wiped out in February, when unseasonably warm temperatures dropped to well below zero.

Mitchell calls it "climate chaos."

Clark, who is part of the fifth generation in her family to run the farm, said it's become more difficult to predict weather patterns.

"Years ago we had a little bit of a sense," she said. "You still didn't know for sure, but things were a little bit more predictable. And now you just have these extreme swings and you just don't know what to expect."

In the aftermath of the May freeze, Clark said she's trying to remain optimistic about this year's crop.

Meanwhile, the owners of Black Birch Vineyard in Hatfield posted a video on Facebook showing candles flickering beside grapevines. They were lit in an attempt to protect the vines from freezing.

The vineyard estimates it lost about 70% of its yield for this fall.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.