As published in The Shoreline Beacon (May 15, 2012). Photo credit: Smith’s Apples and Farm Market
Autumn won’t be as sweet in Saugeen Shores
By Jennifer Schleich
A few blossoms now dot Steve Smith’s apple orchard, clustered high on the tallest branches of the trees, but to the long-time farmer it still looks to be a year without apples.
“I said there wasn’t a single blossom but I’ve now seen some struggling blossoms out there,” said Smith. “I cut some of the best open, hoping to see green on the inside but they were just brown.”
Brown means no good to Smith. These blossoms might look pretty but they won’t be producing any apples, he explained.
Smiths’ Apples and Farm Market, just outside of Port Elgin, is one of many apple orchards in Ontario and the north-eastern United States, which have been adversely affected by unseasonably warm temperatures in March.
Apple trees in the region were coaxed out of dormancy early and then subjected to no less then 15 mornings of freezing temperatures in April -more then enough frost to kill the important reproductive parts of the delicate buds.
“I had a provincial representative from Agricrop, he’s an adjuster for crop insurance, at the farm this week and he said the news is not good.”
According to Smith it now looks as though some growers in the Georgian Bay area will have some crop, however farmers will need to wait another week for a better idea of what that crop will entail, unless they are like him and will have no crop at all.
The impact is clear on the farmer, but will be just as evident on the consumer and the workers.
“The big impact will be in the fall. I’ve had to cancel my two offshore workers who come. Those Mexican families, as well as local families, who depend on that income will be missing it,” said Smith.
He still expects to hire his summer student employees, however.
“There’s still lots to do, we’ll be having the corn maze and the tree care still has to go on to prepare the trees for next season.”
To please the locals and tourists who visit his farm Smith will be working as hard as ever on his annual corn maze, will be constructing a straw fort from his wheat crop and will still be selling frozen apple pies and crisps from last year.
“We’ll be hard at work in the bakery to produce things with other Ontario fruits,” added Smith. “And I’ll be keeping my ear to the apple industry for some quality crop. We’ve got to do something to celebrate the harvest.”
Smith feels the autumn apple
harvest is an essential part of Ontario’s culture and doesn’t think he’s going to be the only sad person missing it this year.
“The fall in Ontario is punctuated by the joy of picking apples and we’re all going to be missing that this year,” he said. “I’m already feeling that when I look out the window and know I should be doing something with the apples -but there’s nothing to do.”
According to Smith there’s just something “wonderful” about eating an apple that’s only hours off the tree, “It’s just not the same as when it’s shipped,” he said.
Although orchards further into the southern U.S. will be able to help fill the void in supermarkets, Smith expects consumers will notice the absence of the “beautiful and fresh locally grown Ontario varieties”.
There are 17 varieties of apples grown in Ontario, including the ever popular McIntosh, Empire, Northern Spy, Red Delicious and Gala, on more than 16,000 acres of farmland.
The Ontario Apple Growers (OAG) announced on Thursday that initial assessments still indicate up to 80 per cent of Southern Ontario’s apple crop will be lost. Outside of apples, 30-40 per cent of Ontario peaches have been adversely affected and “virtually complete devastation of the cherry and plum crops” is also expected.
“I know how much this loss means to the farmers involved, and not just in economic terms. I will continue to closely monitor the situation as we work to assess the damage and develop strategies that will best support the industry,” said Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ted McMeekin on Thursday, after meeting with the OAG. Like many farmers, Smith invests in crop insurance in preparation for years like this one. Though it won’t make up for his huge losses in revenue, it still makes a difference.
“I always look at the cost of growing apples, which is large, plus the effort to do it, so I always buy crop and hail insurance,” he explained. “It will cover my input costs to maintain the trees and get them ready for next year.”
According to Smith he can’t remember a year like this but expects it’s natural.
“You can think of this as a 50 year event,” he said. “I’ve only been in the business 20 years – not that long, but the fellow who was here this week, his grandfather was an apple grower back into the 1920s and he said in the winter of 36 and 37 the temperatures in Ontario plummeted into the -30° range and destroyed the apple blossoms and trees.”
Smith has also heard of a similar loss in the 1940’s.
“It’s just part of a cycle.”
Apples account for approximately $63 million each year in Ontario and make up about 40% of Canada’s apple crop.