A late May frost caused some NY farms to lose most of their apples
In a normal year, Matthew Critz, a co-owner of Critz Farms in Cazenovia, could stand in the orchard and see a sea of red. Now it's just a few polka dots. He points to a tree about 12 feet tall.
"This tree right here that has one apple," said Critz, "this tree should probably carry 200 apples and it's got one."
The evening of May 17 Critz turned on a large frost fan which helps mix warmer air from above with cooler air at ground level to try and prevent frost forming on the flowering trees. Then the temperature dipped down to 23 degrees.
"32 is okay," Critz said. "30, 29, you start having a little damage maybe 10 percent. You can go down to like 27 you'd be like 50% damage, but usually there's enough blossoms even if you lose 50% of them, you're still going to bear a good crop. Then it went down to 23 and just killed everything."
The apples he does have, have a frost ring around them. These apples will be pressed to make sweet cider and hard cider.
Typically the farm yields 3,000 bushels of apples. This year, Critz said he'll be lucky if he gets 100.
Critz isn't the only one affected. Owen Orchards in Cayuga County also closed its U-pick after losing its crops.
At Beak and Skiff in Lafayette, General Manager Pete Fleckenstein said about 30% of the crops were affected.
"Being down 30% isn't terrible," Fleckenstein said. "But the remaining 70% of that remaining amount, there are a lot of apples that will never make it into the grocery store because they're ugly now and that is a hit financially. We are fortunate that we have a cider mill and we have a home for them, but the value is almost less than a third of what it would be if it ended up in your refrigerator at home."
Fleckenstein said crop insurance will cover a portion of the loss and said statistically it's a 1 in 10 year issue where they have a lack of crop or a really damaged crop.
"We're very fortunate," Fleckenstein said. "That's nothing we did. It was complete luck of the draw because we've been on the other side of it. We've been on the side where there are no apples or there are not enough apples in the places that we need them or of the right variety."
So why did some farms get hit harder than others? Jennifer Gilbert Jenkins, Associate Professor of Agricultural Science at SUNY Morrisville, said the difference is elevation.
"It's not like mountain elevation, where, as you go up it gets colder," Gilbert Jenkins said. "We're just talking about a couple of 100 feet differences here. The valleys are where the cold gets trapped. In those valleys, the frost can last for hours longer than up on hill slopes that are going to be exposed to the heat earlier."
But for Critz, all is not lost. He said other aspects of the farm like pumpkins, a corn maze and a petting zoo make up the majority of the revenue and the farm has some retained earnings built up. As for how he proceeds for the next year?
"Just pull up your pants and go to work," Critz said. "That's about all you can do. Pretend that it's going to be okay. That's the only thing you can do or you wouldn't be in the business."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a request from the state for a federal Agriculture Disaster Designation with 31 counties designated as a primary natural disaster area. Farmers in those counties are eligible for low-interest emergency loans.