By Daniel Gatta and Skyler Gilbert
An unseasonably warm February could cause the New York State apple crop to reach an advanced stage of growth earlier than usual, resulting in perhaps a severe loss of crops.
Several orchard owners, including one on Long Island, have expressed concern that the temperatures a�� over 60-degrees Fahrenheit in some locations a�� will make trees lose their a�?winter hardinessa�? and become vulnerable to a late frost.
These fears come after a disappointing 2016 season in which over 90 percent of the statea��s apple crop was decimated due to sudden cold spells late last spring.
a�?The blossoms will come early and then the real problem is that if we have a normal freeze in May we can lose crops,a�? Joy Crist of Crist Brothers Orchard in Walden, New York said. a�?The recent weather is really setting up for a crop loss that might come at a later time when the trees cannot protect themselves from the cold.a�?
Trees are not yet bloomed but a continuation of mild temperatures could bring flowering sooner than preferred.
Once matured, a temperature below 28-degrees could annihilate an entire crop, multiple farmers said. A low yearly yield due to weather is not uncommon in fruit farms, but would be especially difficult given the disappointing 2016 season.
a�?Last year we had a bad crop due to a late frost,a�? Autumn Piazza, an orchardist at Fishkill Farms in Hopewell Junction, said. a�?We were supposed to get double the produce we had the year before, but since wea��re falling into this pattern of warmer winter weather, we are at risk of losing a good chunk of our crops.a�?
Piazza recalled that the situation escalated to such a point last year that the orchard set up a�?mini bon firesa�? to prevent blossomed trees from freezing in the winter and spring. If the weather proceeds in a similar manner, such precautions could be taken again.
On Long Island, the concern is a bit mitigated due to a more moderate climate than the a�?fringe temperaturesa�? of the cold upstate.
But Lou Amsler, the owner of Richtera��s Orchard in Northport, one of only two apple farms in central Long Island, is cautiously optimistic about his crop this year, provided that temperature changes are slow and minimal.
a�?With this hot weather, it needs to cool off gradually,a�? Amsler explained. a�?If it cools gradually, the trees can safely go back into their dormant mode.a�?
Quick weather fluctuations can cause several adversities to apple growth. Flowers can be killed outright. Damaged seeds can cause pollination problems, which can lead to deformities, rigid skin or a�?frost ringsa�? on the fruits.
Some traditional southern-grown pitted fruits are more susceptible to cold snaps than apples, the chief fruit grown in New York.
a�?Our apple trees are okay as of now,a�? Piazza said. a�?But our cherries, plums, pears, peaches and stone fruit are beginning to bud so we could potentially be losing them yet again.a�?
For apples, worries are still limited this early in the season, but orchard growers are keeping a keen eye on the weather forecast for the upcoming months.