By Tom Collins
MOUNTAIN —This year’s apple crop yield is down by about 20 per cent over last year because the stressed trees are still recovering from last year’s drought and this year’s rainy weather wasn’t conducive to pollination, apple growers say.
“Our trees suffered from extreme drought last year,” says apple grower Charles Stevens, chair of Ontario Apple Growers. There are approximately 15 different varieties grown on 15,000 acres in Ontario.
Four of the previous five years have been tough for the apple industry. One of the worst years was 2012 when growers saw an 80 per cent yield loss. That was followed by a tough 2014 because the winter was too cold. A May 23 frost in 2015 caused about a 50 per cent yield loss across the province. Last year’s drought slowed down the apples’ growth, and while trees had more than the average number of apples, the fruit was smaller than normal.
Shelley Lyall, of Mountain Orchards at Mountain, south of Ottawa, installed trickle irrigation for all 27 acres of trees two years ago. The trickle irrigation system involves constructing a pipeline under the field to give each tree the right amount of water at the roots.
“It paid for itself last year,” she said. “We had that sucker on every day last year. This year, we haven’t turned it on once. All the water that everybody else is complaining about, we loved it. The trees loved it.”
Lyall said the trees would have been stressed this year had it not been for the irrigation system. The biggest issue for her farm this year was hail, but the farm dodged major damage. The other issue was cold and rainy weather in the spring, so not as many blossoms were pollinated by bees.
Heidi Behan, of Moore Orchards at Cobourg, said the cooler nights at the start of September helped colour the apples quite nicely.
“It might not be a huge crop in some spots due to the fact things were not ideal for pollination,” she said. “The apples seem quite happy despite the cold, somewhat unseasonable summer. The apples are lovely. With the trees being so stressed, it was probably a relief for them to not have to worry about water this year.”