EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 16, 2013

Farmers hope apple production turns around

Apple growers optimistic it will be a better year

By Alex Lippa

---- — For the last five years, apple production in New Hampshire has been rotten.

But growers are optimistic about this year.

“This is one of the best blooms I’ve had in the last 10 years,” said Dan Hicks, owner of Sunnycrest Farms in Londonderry. “Everything looks great right now.”

Things haven’t been so great in recent years.

New Hampshire produced 869,000 bushels of apples in 2008. That number has dropped each of the following years, with only 369,000 bushels produced last year.

“It’s all about the weather,” said Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of agricultural development for the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture. “Each year, we’ve had something which has caused damage to the fruit.”

Last year, it was unusually warm weather in March, which caused the trees to bloom early.

“It hit 80 degrees in March,” said Mike Cross, farm manager at Mack’s Apples in Londonderry. “We then hit some lousy weather and it affected the crop.”

In other years, significant weather events such as droughts or heavy rains have affected the crop.

“When there’s a lack of rain, apples don’t get up their normal size,” said Nada Haddad, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension food and agriculture specialist. “In other years, the buds have been killed by the frost.”

But the hope among growers is that a poor year leads to a good next year.

“When you have a low crop and a low yield, the following year you should get more apples,” Hicks said. “I think that’s what we’re seeing now, but it always depends on the weather later in the season.”

With the trees in blossom, pollination is starting to occur, which has seen mixed results.

“We had a good start last week when it was warm,” Cross said. “But right now, it’s been a lot cooler and the bees don’t really fly in this weather.”

Cross said blossoms last anywhere from a week to two and a half weeks depending on the weather.

“We are really right on time this year,” he said. “But it’s dragged on a little bit because it has been cold.”

Samuel Nassar, owner of Apple Acres in Windham. said the bloom has been normal for him as well.

“We’ve got a full bloom everywhere,” Nassar said. “This year, they’re going to be ready at least two weeks after they were last year. People won’t have to go apple picking in summer where there are so many other things they could be doing.”

Weather hasn’t been the only factor in the low production statewide. Hicks said there are fewer orchards.

In 2010, Londonderry’s 270-acre Woodmont Orchard sold for about $7 million — for development.

“People have had to diversify their farms,” Hicks said. “They aren’t just being trained to grow apples. As a result, I think we’ve seen less apples produced.”

Nassar said farmers have had to adjust as their customers’ tastes change.

“There is just no demand for second tier apples anymore,” he said. “People just buy them at the store and they get shipped in from China or South America or Australia. We’re under the gun because people are only buying perfect apples now.”