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Apple and grape crops coming in despite challenging weather

By Michelle Poirier [1]

BELLEVILLE/PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY – The apple and grape crop are being harvested on time, despite the cold winter and cool summer weather that provided a challenge to local farmers.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs says that last week’s weather has been helpful to the apple crop, which will be average to above average this year.

“The cool nights and sunny weather in the last week have sized and coloured up the apples and enabled workers to work quickly to harvest the crop,” Susin Micallef, the ministry’s media relations strategist, said.

Diana McPherson, owner of Grills Orchards [2] in Belleville, has had a different outcome. Her farm had problems with the apple crop two years ago because of an early blossom, which made them overcompensate last year.

“So this year they decided to take a year off. On top of that they got hit by frost again when the blossoms were out. There isn’t a lot of bees out there right now pollinating the blossoms … when the blossoms came out this year it was really windy and cold and rainy so it knocked everything off. We had blossoms set for probably two days, should have been a week. So that makes a huge difference,” McPherson said.

The agriculture ministry says that the biggest impact to the crop this year was a wet, cool summer. Sally Peck, owner of Sugarbush Vineyards [3] in Prince Edward County, has faced this challenge with her grape crop.

“Well, we made it through winter all right and that’s because with the European varieties we bury them here in Prince Edward County so they were protected from the cold winter … So they came out of the winter relatively unscathed but then we had a relatively wet and cool July. When that happens we get bad fruit set, or not the greatest pollination, so reduced crop there. And wet and cold is also great growing conditions for mould and mildew so we’ve been battling that all summer,” Peck said.

Debbie Zimmerman at the Grape Growers of Ontario says that the grape crop will not be as big this year compared to last, but that the crop is doing much better than they expected.

Peck says this is the case with her crop.

“Most of the grape growers were feeling that we were going to have a really, really late harvest, but this really nice weather that we’ve had all of September has kind of helped to catch things up. It’s been an up-and-down summer,” Peck said.

Huff Estates winery [4] seems to have avoided all the problems other grape farmers are facing. Frédéric Picard, the winemaker at Huff Estates, says that even though the winter and summer weather were not ideal, the past few weeks have made up for it.

“I think we’ll have more grapes than last year. Last year we had a difficult fall and a difficult spring so we lost a lot of grapes. But I think this year will be much more in terms of volume. It will probably double, 50 per cent more than our crop from last year.”

The apple harvest is underway while the grape harvest is expected to start as early as this weekend.