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Local apple growers in for a rough year

By Tyson Leonard

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REDNERSVILLE, Ont. (10/05/2012) Colin Campbell, one of the two owner-operators of Campbell’s Orchards, inspects an apple blosom. Photo by Tyson Leonard.

Colin Campbell is bracing for a rough year after unusual weather wiped out much of his apple crop at his orchard in Rednersville.

The orchard is likely to lose a large portion of their biggest crop, said Campbell, one of the two owner-operators of Campbell’s Orchards.

“I expect to lose close to 50% of the apples,” said Campbell.

The orchards have been in the Campbell family since 1969. Campbell and his wife have run it as an apple orchard for the last 30 years.

The loss is attributed to the unnaturally warm weather Ontario went through in March. Because of the weather, apple trees starting blooming earlier. When the weather returned to normal, the trees were in a very vulnerable stage. The multiple frosts sterilized many of the apple seeds.

“When they are in bloom they’re at the most sensitive stage,” said Campbell.

The sub-zero temperatures kill off the flowers’ pistils. This renders the flowers unable to produce apples.

Campbell said most orchards can handle one bad year but a couple bad years in a row can force a farm out of business.

The orchard does sell products other than apples such as strawberries, raspberries, and homemade goods, but a loss to their biggest crop, apples, still hits hard.

“We don’t have all our eggs in one basket but our main thing is apples,” said Campbell.

Campbell added that until June he wouldn’t know for sure how much he was going to lose, but it was clear there was going to be a loss.

“We won’t know until the fruit is on the tree,” said Campbell.

This is the first time Campbell’s Orchards has lost a large amount of apples to frost in the 30 years the orchard has been around.

Campbell said there isn’t much you can do to effectively protect the trees from frost but he used a couple tricks to help keep them warm.

“We had fires burning all night long to try and raise the temperature,” said Campbell.

It’s not just Prince Edward County orchards that are taking a hit. Across Ontario and the Great Lakes region, farmers are expected to produce far fewer apples than normal.

“The province as a whole is looking at about 20% to 30% of a normal crop,” said Leslie Huffman, an apple specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agricultural, Food, and Rural Affairs.

The loss is unprecedented for apple farmers in Ontario.

“We’ve never had such a complete loss across the province,” said Huffman.

“We feel (the loss) is significant and possibly totaling as much as $100 million to the farmer.”

Huffman also said the exact damage wouldn’t be known until early June.

A loss in production directly affects the farmers but many other industries in Ontario are affected as well. Packaging and transportation jobs are both likely to suffer, said Huffman.

Apple production in Ontario is no small business. Apples have a value of about $85 million per year to famers. In the Quinte area apples provide on average $7 million every year in revenue for farmers.

“It’s the second largest fruit crop and it’s a very significant in general,” said Huffman.

With Ontario’s apple production lower than normal, retailers may have to look toward apple growing regions that were not affected. Both Washington state and Chile are two major sources for apples Ontario retailers buy from.

Campbell said it’s likely a lot more apples from China will be shipped over also.

Other crops affected by the abnormal weather are tender fruits such as peaches, sour cherries, and plums.