By Tom Collins
NESTLETON — After years of poor crops, it looks like it will be a banner year for apple growers, says the chair of the Ontario Apple Growers.
The tough run of yields started in 2012 with one of the worst years for Ontario apple growers as they lost 80 per cent of yield because of drought. Things rebounded in 2013, but 2014 was too cold. A May frost in 2015 caused a 50 per cent yield loss, and another drought in 2016 caused smaller-than-normal apples with higher-than-average yields. All these tough years — combined with too much rain during pollination — stressed out the trees enough to have 2017 yields about 30 per cent less than 2016.
Apple growers’ chair Charles Stevens said this year has been great for yield.
“In the five years I’ve been chairman of the Ontario Apple Growers, this is probably the best apple crop we’ve grown in terms of volume and quality,” he said, adding the apple trees came out of the winter with more carbon in the bark than normal. Stevens also said apples are sweeter this year as sunshine changes the apples’ starches into sugar.
The toughest part about the number of poor years is it prevents farmers from growing their business, said Stevens, adding the cost to plant an acre of trees is more than the actual cost to buy the acre of land.
“When you have bad years, a number of them in a row, you can’t expand because you can’t borrow the money to do it,” he said. “There’s no cash flow.”
About 20 per cent of Ontario’s apple acreage is in Eastern and East-Central Ontario.
It hasn’t been good news for all growers. The owner of Cannamore Orchard at Crysler, Claire Taylor, said the cold winter caused a lot of buds to freeze and not recover.
Taylor said that her 2,500 trees will yield about the same as last year when they had to get a crop insurance payment. While that insurance money helps, she said it’s frustrating to have so many years of poor apple growing seasons.
“You have to keep optimistic just like all the other farms and say ‘there’s always next year,’” she said.