By Tom Collins
THEDFORD — Despite a wet spring and a summer drought, apple growers say their crop has turned out better than expected.
Carol Veens of Juicy Fruit Orchards at Thedford in Lambton County said she is satisfied with the final result, but more rain during the summer and early fall would have made the apples colour better. While better colour doesn’t impact the quality, customers and packers are looking for bright red apples.
“When we ship our apples to packers, they judge on the colour of the apple,” she said. “You get docked if you don’t have enough colour on your apples for certain varieties. You can lose a lot of money.”
A lack of rain will also produce smaller apples, so it’s important to prune during the summer to keep the trees less stressed, she said. The orchard uses an overhead irrigation system, but it’s hard to spray everything constantly, so the system will be set up in the most stressed areas of the fields. A new 45-acre orchard that will be ready next year will have drip irrigation.
Despite the colouring, the quality is good with a heavy yield, said Veens.
Charles Stevens, chair of Ontario Apple Growers, said across the province, it’s been a normal apple season. The group’s estimation is that yield will be about 10 per cent less than last year’s above-average yield.
He said it costs around $25,000 to establish an acre of trees, but the trees won’t start producing enough apples to make a profit for about six or seven years. That cost doesn’t include irrigation or frost fans.
“You can’t make many mistakes,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure your risk management policy is in place. That means crop insurance, and all the government programs you can get a hold of, to protect you when Mother Nature doesn’t give you a good yield.”
Doug Balsillie, who runs The Fruit Wagon at Harrow in Essex County, uses drip irrigation throughout his orchard and had to irrigate for 10 weeks this summer.
“On our farm, if we can’t irrigate an orchard, we’re not going to plant it,” he said. “There’s just too many dollars involved in planting.”
It was a tough start to the season for Balsillie, but a beautiful end. All the rain in the spring meant spraying more fungicides to keep disease pressure low, but running a sprayer on wet ground left ruts in the orchards that will probably never go away. However, the spraying worked, as Balsillie had a trace amount of apple scab and no other diseases. The irrigation led to great quality and good yields.
“It’s not what we would call a bin buster, but it’s a better-than-average crop,” he said. “We spent a lot of time worrying this spring about weather and trying to keep disease under control, but it’s turned out to be a really nice crop.”
WESTERN ONTARIO: Apple yields better than expected, growers say
By Tom Collins